Blackbirds Rising

Saturday morning, my son and I took a walk through our neighborhood. Hand in mittened hand, we tromped through the soggy fallen leaves to the top of the hill by our house.

As we walked, we heard gunfire from the outdoor range about a half-mile away. It seemed louder this morning, and earlier than I usually heard it. I imagined that the shots came from larger guns, but being inexperienced with firearms—the only time I’ve fired a gun was this past summer—I couldn’t decide if it was loud enough to be from a shotgun. Gun culture isn’t something I associated with Massachusetts before we moved here, but it seems to be pretty big, at least out where we live.

As the shots died away, we heard the chatter of a lot of birds ahead of us and towards the right. As we turned the corner at the top of the hill, we saw the source of the noise. In the street, dozens of blackbirds congregated. We crossed the street and stopped at the corner to watch them.

“I wonder if they’re gathering to migrate,” I said.

We both noticed that there were even more birds in the trees and on the ground between the trees.

“The birds are getting their breakfast!” my son exclaimed.

“Maybe they’re fueling up for a long flight,” I said. “How many do you think there are?”

“Too many to count,” he answered. Just then we heard a car approaching. The birds rose up and moved in a cloud over to the cross street where they settled again, chittering and chattering to one another as they pecked at the ground.

We heard gunfire again, and even though the shots were in the distance, they alarmed the birds, which rose up into the air and moved their cloud farther up the street before settling down again.

I thought that it seemed strange that someone was out shooting at 7:00 on a Saturday morning. Usually I heard increased gunfire only when there had been a recent school shooting or other gun violence in the country. Could this still be in response to the shooting at a Nevada middle school that happened almost two weeks ago? Or maybe it was in response to the murder of the teacher in Danvers; although that didn’t involve a firearm, since it was so local, maybe it got people thinking about other kinds of violence in the schools.

My son and I finished our walk. We talked about skunks when we smelled signs of one. My son suggested that the golden retriever we saw walking with its owner was migrating like the birds, and he noted with glee the spray-painted markings the utility companies had left on the sidewalks and streets (“Look, Mommy! An ‘H’! And an arrow! And an ‘H’ with arrows on it!”).

After lunch, I was playing around online when I saw the reports of the LAX shooting on Friday. I didn’t consume much media on Friday, so I totally missed this news until Saturday afternoon. The shots we heard on our morning walk took on new significance when I read about this incident.

When I think I hear an increase in shooting from the range, I second-guess myself, thinking that maybe they’re not shooting more at all, I’m just noticing it more because reports of gun violence make my ears more attuned to the sounds of the range.  But this time, I’d noticed the increased firing-range use before I’d heard about the most recent shooting. It’s unscientific, but it seems like a connection to me.

Assuming I’m not making up the connection, why would people go to a firing range more after reports of gun-related violence? I’ve read that gun and ammunition sales go up after shootings, presumably because people worry that we might actually pass some gun-control legislation this time and they want to stock up on weapons that might be restricted. Could people also want to go practice shooting for the same reasons?

Or maybe I’m totally off-base. If they were shooting more and bigger and earlier this morning, maybe it was just because fall hunting season started recently, and hunters are doing target practice before going after the rabbits, pheasants, and turkeys they can hunt now.

Whatever it is, while I’m grateful that the sound of discharging firearms is from the firing range and not the neighborhood itself, I’d prefer if the background sounds for my morning walk with my four-year-old consisted only of bird chatter.

4 Replies to “Blackbirds Rising”

  1. I am very anti-gun for reasons too complicated to go into now so any gun fire would put me on edge. I do love the descriptiveness of this.


  2. So poignant. We’re the gun-craziest nation in the world. It’s out of control. Hope your walks with your little boy are more peaceful soon.


  3. Gunfire scares me, no matter where I hear it. I think that people who believe in guns-as-sport react to things like the LAX shooting (and others, too numerous to list here) as a kind of “see, we’re not all crazy” response–but it doesn’t really work. What I want is for responsible gun owners to SCREAM at the NRA and insist on stringent gun laws, just to prove a point. Somehow, though, I don’t think that’s going to happen…


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