The sounds of birds and bugs had different powers over weather and destinies. The belief was that the seasons didn’t bring the birds, but rather the birds’ language of magic sounds brought about seasonal changes in temperature and moisture—birds especially, since each bird was the voice in earthly form of some God. Ground animals were, too, but birds were always telling us things.
Ayahuasca told me birds are angel bursts. By the time she did I was ready to hear it. I’d only been in the Amazon Rainforest for a week at that point but had been listening with reborn ears, ears filled with extrasensory antennae to the jungle voices all around me, to the passionate invocations at dawn and dusk by all kinds of creatures but especially birds, sometimes in the middle of the night and sometimes seemingly for the hell of it.
I wrote an email to my mother (who was worried): "Ma, the birds at dusk and dawn are amazing (also in between), they have the most distinctive voices I’ve ever heard on birds. There were 3 yesterday greeting dawn, 2 of the same kind with a 3rd back up singer. They were very very passionate about the shift from dark to light.”
I’m sorry, but I never paid that much attention before, because I was stuck on a certain channel that didn’t allow me to see outside of its narrow track and birds only generally sounded better than cars whooshing by and not necessarily better than 80s synth pop. Birds and whatever they were about were shaped for me within a mechanistic system of science and ecologies, they were a cog as I was a cog.
Something changed in the jungle though, the birds’ voices pierced through me and felt as if they were coming straight through the sky from somewhere else, like they pierced a hole in the sky and greeted or called in the changing lights with an uncanny joy unlike anything I ever recognized before.
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest …
It didn't stop with a new appreciation of birds' voices, but.
One night about 10 days and 6 ceremonies in, I realized a great fear was coming upon me. It was a blanket fear, like when you're a kid and think something is under the bed at night. At nightfall when it was time to go to my hut I was filled with dread and had a painful, apple-sized knot in my solar plexus area, the same area the ayahuasca had pulsed repeatedly a few nights earlier. I lay on my bed in the jungle dark pressing my fingers and my whole fist into my knot as the fear levels climbed. The pitch dark of the new moon, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face, made the terror worse. It was absolutely overwhelming, crushing terror, unbearable.
An irrational, primal fear. The jungle sounds were causing me to leap out of my skin, something falling, like a branch, my body would go all primal clammy, justing wash over me. After an hour or some hours not even being close to sleep I started hearing a horrible sound outside, the whirring sound of a large something that was trying to get in my hut around where the screen joined to the roof. It struck the screen repeatedly and would hover and whir with an unholy metallic sound of something insectoid and not of this world. This went on for hours. At least it seemed so and I checked my phone a few times. I considered trying to get to the kitchen and possibly sleep in a hammock but I was too afraid to try to walk up there in the dark. Finally, after using all the fear tricks to dispel it, I was able to focus my thoughts at the creature: “I want to see what you are.” A small resolve came over me. The creature left and came back one more time, whirring around before finally flying off into the night and I don’t know how I slept but I did for a few hours. In the morning I was so relieved it wasn’t dark anymore but dragged around exhausted and lolled on the bed. And I heard the sound again and got up to look and saw... the most beautiful blue hummingbird.
A kind of shock went through me, like chills through my whole body. A hummingbird. That day a brown hummingbird came and perched on a tree quite near to my hut.
A long time was spent in his walking around looking and asking if anyone had any feathers from crows, hawks, owls or vultures. Not trusting our knowledge he glanced again and again at the piles of feathers looking for 'suspicious' feathers. Some had feathers with them they were not sure of the bird which had given them and he would check them by holding them up against the light. Some of the feathers had to go back into boxes and bags because he said the feathers were the dreamselves of the birds. They were the outer manifestation of the bird-being-bird. Therefore feathers carried the song – the shine of the bird. We should assemble those feathers of the bird that we wanted to dream us into a new part of our own being. Someone asked if there were 'bad' birds and he explained that no birds were 'bad' but the feathers certainly carried and called the energy of the species. He said none of us (meaning those who were not him) were equipped to handle the energy of hawk, or owl, that crows were mischievous and he did not want to deal with that energy and vulture feathers, no matter how clean always stunk.