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During the years I lived in the country, surrounded by woods, I would occasionally visit someone back in town, and occasionally spend the night. Arising in the morning to step out for a walk, I would notice the birds singing. Everyone notices the birds singing, it’s a lovely part of being awake and outdoors in the morning; but this was my observation:

The birds singing in city and suburban areas were always more raucous, louder, and more ebullient than those in the country. In the country there were delightful, distant peeps and trills and calls from here and there. In the city there was always a crush of birdsong, what could rightly be called a riot of birdsong. One would think, from the demonstration they made, that there were many, many more birds in the city than in the country.

But the fact is, there are plenty of birds everywhere. The difference is that in the country there are many more trees to inhabit. In the city, they have to contest their nesting spots all the time. Much birdsong is just that: the announcement to the world that this is the spot where my mate and I have chosen to reproduce and raise our young. It’s our tree, you go find your own. Birds inhabiting one of the few dozen trees in a subdivision, or one of the ornamental trees in a strip mall parking lot, have so much more to to contest than birds who find themselves in a thickly forested area where the choice of trees seems infinite.

During the early 20th century, architect Frank Lloyd Wright spent much energy working to deconstruct the urban environment, to spread things out and reduce population density. His was a utopian vision of prairies of population rather than crowded cities. Of course it didn’t work, and later critics of his work have written that there is one main reason it didn’t: people like living in cities. They find them stimulating and interesting and full of vigor.

Sometimes I hate a crowd, like when I’m fighting to leave a parking garage after a sports event, or trying to find a parking place at the mall around the holidays. But I also enjoy some crowds, like at our local farmer’s market on a Saturday, where you rub shoulders with people of many ethnicities and cultures and styles. Such a rush of sights and smells, and such a cacophony of sounds, of various languages being used, of accents and discussions and arguments. One’s ears are assaulted, like the birds on a spring morning in the city, all quarreling and threatening and making a joyous noise of it all.

You can live in the country, and find peace, space, and time to think, and make little noise. Or you can live in the city, chockablock with ten thousand of your neighbors, and jostle and fight and cajole; butt in line and sneak an extra portion; or you can open the door for a stranger, and say hello and good morning to people you’ll never see again. Either way your song, the thing that you feel you need to say each morning when you get up, is likely to remain the same.

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