Abena Beloved Green Reviews Daystart Songflight, which highlights the aliveness of the landscape
Daystart Songflight is a compilation of journal entries documenting both sunrises and the sound of birds as they awaken with the morning. In this book of plein air accounts, Bartlett records the time the sun begins to emerge from various horizons and the time he begins his written reflections. Using paced and keenly noted details, he describes landscapes observed and navigated as well as the nature of sunlight on its ascent:
Just as daylight doesn’t switch off to signal the start of night but gradually changes through late afternoon, evening, and dusk—more slowly than the closing of petals—so the day creeps in rather than jumping upon us out of the dark.
Bartlett’s sunrise expeditions occur in various locations within Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Sweden. A few locations in K’jipuktuk/Halifax include: Pennant Point Trail, Crystal Crescent Beach and the Salt Marsh Trail in Cole Harbour.
In New Brunswick, he offers reflections from Marysville in York County; in Sweden, Kålland Peninsula, Lake Vänern. For a reader looking for new trails and areas to explore, this book offers several to begin with.
He speaks of at times having to “race” to location before the first light makes its appearance. Bartlett’s descriptions of colour come textured and flavoured: “I crossed the finishing line a few minutes before the sun did, the sky in the low east no longer watermelon-pink but butter-yellow.”
Bartlett is generous with description, noting with no hurry every intricate detail of the moss-covered logs, rocks, coasts and redwoods that he comes across. If you want to imagine you are in Bartletts’s shoes observing the reefs of Sambro Island, pondering the reason why one of them is called “Mad Rock,” this is the book for you. In my opinion, this compilation of entries is best suited for the aspiring explorer, the outdoorsperson who has traversed similar landscapes or wishes to, for the armchair traveller who appreciates the leisurely details and for those with a prior interest in bird watching.
Bartlett not only observes and listens for distinctions in calls between birds and of those of the same species, he also indulges in research, showing his commitment to familiarizing himself with these winged beings. He writes: “There are now seven ornithological books of various sizes and shapes stacked on the side table next to the lawn chair. Imagine a cartoon spoof of birding obsessiveness, the pile of books growing as high as the ash and the linden.”
While reading, I was introduced to several birds new to me, including the Willet: “Pale brown, silver and white, the long-billed shorebird resembled someone in a shower washing under his armpits, pouring water over his hair. … When I left, the Willet was preening, wing-spreading, water-flipping, as if feeling sensuous pleasure in the act, not only satisfying the instinct for hygiene.”
These same entries that may draw some readers in may cause others to experience a level of ennui. Aside from quaint moments and conversations with his wife Karen, there are few interactions with others, which for me could have made Bartlett’s accounts more interesting. Bartlett weaves reflections throughout his daily writings such as: what actually accounts for sunrise? The first emergence or the full ascent?
is journeying more a state of mind than a physical excursion
I found myself hoping for more of a storyline tying these explorations together. I was perhaps hoping for an experience similar to what one encounters in reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, or Mary Oliver’s writings, which offer personality within nature and relationship with it in a very simple yet compelling way.
That said, for the sake of turning our eyes to offerings of the Nova Scotian peninsula and beyond, this book highlights the aliveness of the landscape beyond urban attractions and entertainment. It demonstrates the continuous gift and even thrill it can be to watch the sun—how it rises and where and how the surrounding areas are illuminated in response.