The Story Behind ‘The Year the Birds Came Back’
The Year the Birds Came Back is a song that still lifts my spirits whenever I hear it. It was the first of the batch of new songs that came to me after I began the recording project that would become ‘Not All the Leaves Are Falling’. It heralds the return of my creativity after a dry and stressful spell and my reconnection with my deeper self after a time of inner resistance.
The way it came to me was delightfully strange.
I was driving to work one morning in 2014. As I approached the Domain Road roundabout a bird briefly dived and swooped over my windscreen and then flew skyward. Immediately I was ‘with song’.
If I remember rightly, I had the chorus recorded on my phone by the time I got to Bayfair. The verses came just as effortlessly. I could see the whole story all laid out.
The year the birds came back, the air was filled with dancing the sky was filled with song.
The trees they laughed and clapped and opened up their beaches and welcomed them back home.
I could see the whole scene of the birds disappearing, the land going quiet, and the joyful exultation when they returned because it had actually happened.
One of the things I love about my family home are the mature trees and the birdsong. Over breakfast Dad I will sometimes listen to the birdcalls – he is much better at identifying them than I am. There is a bright pink cherry tree in our courtyard which blushes outrageously as it heralds spring each year, a good month before the rest of the tree world gets a look-in. Joyful tuis with their regal apparel and melodic guttural songs appear at the same time the blossoms do, gorging themselves on sweet nectar until they lumber drunkenly amongst the branches, whistling their drowsy tunes. It is a sensory feast of sound and colour.
One year, magpies descended on the garden and attacked and threatened the whole community of bird-life. Dad saw a magpie attack another bird in mid-flight, his attention alerted by screams coming from the blue sky.
All of the birds flew away. The garden went quiet. The trees stood empty without their tenants. I missed them.
Over time, the magpies tired of their new territory and moved their thug-culture into a new neighbourhood. Slowly but surely the rest of the birds began to return, bringing their song and dance routines with them.
This little natural drama that had played out in my backyard suddenly crystallised with my own story the moment that bird swooped over my car. The native song that was always present, the threatening shadows which silenced me for a time, the long quiet wait of the intervening years and the thrill of new songs filling the air again. It was like a dream in melody, bringing together an external story with my internal story. It made me fall in love with the mystery of creative inspiration all over again and I gratefully happy that I got to play in that domain.
And from the mystery came melodies anew
The bluebird sang in my memory for you
And a song is not a saviour, but a song can get you through.