TOWAiDS THE EID of Cormac McCarthy's brutally dark novel about worldwide environmental catastrophe, The Road, there is a pivotal moment when its two central characters are forced to spend their nights in a black, freezing wasteland. To escape this nightmarish place, one of them is described as railing into dreams that are "softly colored worlds of human love, the songs of birds, the sun". There we have it: human life stripped back to its fundamental sources of happiness. There is no life without thesun, and not much of a life without human fellowship, but why exactly should we celebrate birdsong? What is it about those avian sounds thatcan somehow stand for all the blessings of nature and has affected us throughout the ages and across continents?