The rooster at the farm across the road woke me every morning. The moment he saw hint enough of a sunrise to satisfy himself that it was really morning, he'd begin to crow. He didn't keep it up for very long, just long enough for everyone in the barnyard to remember who was boss. That's what a rooster's crow is about: it's not so much a statement about how glad he is to be alive as a warning to any other roosters who might be foolish enough to be walking by -- To Whom It May Concern: This here is my yard and these ladies here are my hens. Keep moving or you'll wish to God you'd never been hatched.
Then it was the dogs. Beagles, mostly, tied up beside their doghouses in the barnyard. The rooster's call reminded them that they wanted to chase something, anything, after a long night's sleep. And that it wouldn't be such a bad thing if breakfast were to be served sometime soon.
Then the cows called to be milked. It was their babies they were calling every morning, of course, even if their babies were grown and gone. Force of habit: your milk lets down, that prickly feeling, and you call out really loud, because you have to give it to somebody. And sure enough, along comes somebody to take it. Not your baby but still, it's a relief.
When I was little, I would lie there and listen. I woke with the rooster in those days, and for years I thought his was the first voice of the morning. I thought the rooster heralded the dawn. I guess tenors just have that effect on people; we always think the whole show's about them. But there is a lengthy and complicated overture before ever he appears, a building chant of birds answering other birds:
So am I!
Where are you?
This is my yard and not yours!
Would you like to get married?
I'm over here.
Careful, these folks have cats.
Stay where you are, I'm bringing you a seed.
It's still dark when they begin. Not even the rooster knows it's morning yet. The little girl would still have been asleep; she rose with the light and the rooster. But the middle-aged woman she became keeps odd hours, sometimes. She never rejects the idea of a nap, as her energetic younger self always did, and she is often awake before the dawn, waiting for the signal to begin her day. She hears the first few solo notes. She lies there as the chorus complexifies, layering voice upon voice. It is as lovely as the Renaissance polyphony she treasures. She listens, and realizes that it has exactly the same structure.
She remembers the rooster, strutting his way down center for his aria. There is no rooster in our neighborhood; although I would dearly love to have a flock of chickens, I am not sure our neighbors would greet the rooster's crow with the same nostalgic delight I would enjoy. I'd love a rooster, but I don't need one. The backyard birds make music aplenty, without a soloist. Lord, open our lips, says one. And our mouth shall proclaim your praise, they all answer, and the day begins.