A Murmuration of Humans


Christopher James Stone

I’ve just come back from watching a murmuration of starlings over Cromwell Road, Whitstable.

“Murmuration” is the collective noun for a flight of Starlings. Starlings don’t flock, they murmur. It’s an odd word to have chosen, since what they actually do looks more like reciting poetry than murmuring.

They cut, they weave, they parry, they thrust, they wheel about in the air forming immense patterns of startling complexity. They shimmer, they switch, they swirl. They swoop, they dive. They split and then reform. It’s like a vast aerial dance of hypnotic precision in which the individual starlings come together to create a unity, as if they are being guided by a single collective will.

They do this on still evenings just before sunset as they are preparing to roost. It’s a fantastic sight, made all the more beautiful in Cromwell Road by the fact that the only reason it can happen here is because the trees on the embankment were saved in the campaign against Network Rail last year.

It’s hard to say why they do this. According to the RSPB, it’s to protect themselves from predators, but to me it looks like nothing less than an act of collective worship, like living creatures expressing themselves in their joy of being alive.

Perhaps they are giving thanks to the people of Whitstable who helped to save their homes and families last year.

"Our own act of collective worship in our joy of being alive."
“Our own act of collective worship in our joy of being alive.”

And that is how we felt further down Cromwell Road, outside the delivery office on Saturday the 12th January 2013, when a murmuration of humans got together for our own act of collective worship in our joy of being alive.

I’m referring to the postal workers and the people of Whitstable, of course, and our “Carnival of Resistance” against the closure of the office.

It was an unforgettable day. From the first to the last a creative act. We did not stop the mail but, then again, we never intended to. What we did was much more profound. We created a unity of purpose that day, as if all us individual humans were getting together and being guided by a single, collective will.

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