Are you a “night owl” or an “early bird”, “up with the lark”? It’s interesting how these expressions came into the language, relating our body clocks to nature, to day and night, light and dark. It’s no wonder that International Dawn Chorus Day falls at the beginning of May: as dawn gets earlier and earlier every day at this time of year, birds start to sing around 4 or 5 am. And with the dawn chorus at its height, this is also the time of year to try gokotta…
Are you familiar with gokotta? Many people enjoy birdsong, but in Sweden this has developed to become an actual tradition: getting up early to hear the dawn chorus. Gok is Swedish for cuckoo, so the name derives from listening out for the first cuckoo. It may have developed as just another way to experience nature, to get out and about and enjoy the outdoors. But it’s gone on to become a wellness trend, and again, no wonder. It has it all: calm and quiet, connecting with nature, time out, getting away, being in the moment. It’s an opportunity to set aside whatever might be ahead that day and just be, just listen. Some people find it sets them up for the day, that they then dive into their usual routine feeling calmer or more positive. It’s become a tradition throughout May and on to Midsummer Day, 21 June.
Many of us relate and respond more to nature in spring than at any other time of year. New growth, buds and blossoms, warmth and sunshine (hopefully) – and birdsong.
It’s easy to think, however, that gokotta isn’t for us. It might only sound worth trying if you’re in some beautiful Swedish forest, away from it all, surrounded by birdsong. But there’s no need to go anywhere remote. Even in urban areas there’s birdsong to be heard, sometimes louder than in the countryside as it’s been found that birds sing more loudly to be heard over the traffic. Or you might think gokotta isn’t for the faint-hearted: yet it’s actually all about enjoyment. Gokotta tradition recommends you make a cup of coffee or tea to take outside with you, and find somewhere comfotable to sit while you listen. This isn’t about shivering in the rain, or striding off on a six mile walk at dawn. It’s being present, being in the moment. You could even try listening indoors, maybe through an open window.
And birds do sing all day, even at dusk – so if dawn really isn’t possible, you could try making a habit of settling down to listen at another time of day. You could also listen to recorded birdsong online if it’s impossible to hear any birds where you are, or so you get to hear more of a variety of different species’ songs. Just search “recorded nightingale song” – or any other species – online and see what you find. And if you do hear birdsong outdoors, try to record some to capture the moment. Try making listening to birdsong a regular part of your routine at this time of year – or just try it on International Dawn Chorus Day itself.
There are different ways to experiment with gokotta, but the essence is experiencing birdsong, ideally starting the day by absorbing nature’s sounds.
Do you enjoy listening to birdsong? Are you going to try gokotta? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002