Theme of Freedom of Speech - Broadcast May 2013
Winter walks with my dog can be quite a chore to be honest, especially this year when I wish I’d been as cold and rain adapted as a polar bear. But on a few occasions I have been quite literally stopped in my tracks by a singing tree. I walk Flip – that’s my dog – on open parkland in Bristol and there are many trees dotted around. Sometimes one of them sings so loudly and so beautifully a small group of us gather round the trunk just to listen.
At first it is hard to see what is making the noise as the tree is tall and the leafless branches are silhouetted against a pewter sky – so picking out detail is hard. But then small shapes start hopping around and you begin to see that the tree is alive with birds, all of them singing their little hearts out. It really is magical - a singing, ringing tree. Birds often flock together in the winter – tits, thrushes and starlings can form quite large groups – and it can be like listening to a heavenly orchestra that decides to brighten up a dark day. Like any orchestra, not all the individual calls are beautiful, some sound harsh, others repetitive - some are divine, like tinkling bells that ring in harmony.
Now imagine someone putting a huge sound-proof cover over the tree. The birds can sing as loud as they like, but no one hears, their song has been silenced. If that did happen the world would indeed be a less wonderful. So as I think about World Press Freedom day this week I’ll hold the image of the singing tree in my mind and thank God that no one has ever tried to silence it - yet.