my green vermont

Subscribe For My Latest Posts:

Dear Wood Thrush, Enough Already!

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

I’ll get to the wood thrush in a moment, but first: on a January day in 2007, during morning rush hour, the fabulous violinist Joshua Bell, dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, parked himself inside the entrance to L’Enfant Plaza metro station in D.C. He took his Stradivarius out of its case, tuned it, and launched into the Bach Chaconne for solo violin. L’Enfant Plaza was my station when I worked in the city several years before Bell’s busking experiment, and I wonder what I would have done if he had been playing while I was on my way to work. Actually, I don’t wonder. No matter what awaited me at the office, I would have been late to work that morning. I would have stood rooted to the spot, hugging my briefcase to my chest, listening with all my ears to those glorious double stops bouncing off the walls and ceiling of the station.

What would have happened if the next morning Bell had showed up again and played the Chaconne just as soul piercingly as the first time? I would have stood and listened, and been late for work again. If he had appeared a third time, I might have started to feel an uncomfortable mixture of awe, delight, irritation, and anxiety about being late three days in a row. But the time after that, I’m afraid I would have rushed past, averting my face, wishing I could stop my ears against those celestial sounds, and wondering why Bell wasn’t off practicing for his next gig at Carnegie Hall.

But back to the wood thrush. Every spring, as soon as green-up is complete, I start listening for the wood thrush, come back to the woods from his months in warmer climes. And on the first evening when his fluty, liquid, yet strangely powerful notes emerge from the canopy and float down to my ears, I stand enraptured and listen, not thinking, barely breathing, just letting those pure tones resound through my chakras. And then I go inside and write about it.

As the summer progresses, the thrush sings on and on. Unless it is pouring down rain, you can hear him from morning  to night. He is tireless, and he is very very good. And because he is so good, I can’t bear not to listen. Unfortunately, I cannot put my life on hold just because the thrush is marking his territory. Unlike eyes, ears don’t have lids to shut out sound, and one of the nice things about summer in Vermont is that you can keep the windows open, but not only is the thrush a fine singer, he is loud. Especially in the evening, he fills our cottage with his trills and roulades until I find myself growing irritated at the invisible little musician and wishing for the time when he’ll be busy cramming worms into the gullets of his descendants and will give his vocal chords (technically, his syrinx) and my ears a rest.

What is it about us humans, that we can’t maintain a level of response to even the most pleasurable of stimuli?. Tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse say the French (everything passes, everything breaks, everything palls). Whether it’s the thrush, the Chaconne, or coffee ice cream, a pleasure fades if it’s offered on a daily basis. In romance as in art and cuisine, absence really does make the heart grow fonder (except in those unfortunate cases where out of heart, out of mind applies). Maybe that’s one reason I like living in a place with well-marked seasons. You wait for the first snow, and then around March, just when you’re getting sick of putting on your boots every time you step out the door you get, well, mud, but then the craziness of spring begins. The thrush returns from the south, unspools his ribbon of sound, and I’m in ecstasy again.

It’s just too bad that he ignores the first principle of all performing artists: leave them wanting more.

P.S. If you’re wondering about the reaction to Bell’s performance in the metro, of the more than one thousand people who passed by, only SEVEN stopped to listen.



3 Responses

  1. A little birdie with a pink/purple head and spot on the back when the wings are folded has been stopping by.

    I put out a bowl of water – we’re over 100° F in this part of California for the next two weeks or so – am entranced when it stops to sing a bit – wonder if the two are going to build a nest or are just hiding from the heat – and hope the singing won’t get as bad as the constantly-cooing pigeons we had when we first got here.

    The pigeons won’t SHUT UP. I think they coo as they walk, as geese in flight honk as they breathe, but it gets so tiresome I didn’t feel I could encourage the pigeons to stay (and they’re famously dirty birdies).

    And now we haven’t had pigeons in three years. Fires? Heat? Dunno – but our wildlife is way down, and I worry about the ecology.

    My balcony is too close – just outside my window – and we’re on the fourth floor, so it’s this or nothing. If I could walk and had energy, it would be the best balcony garden ever. As it is, my assistant waters our couple of plants, and I hope it will get better, but worry daily about the climate change.

    I hate being dependent on others to do what I used to love, but being chronically ill was not the life I chose 34 years ago – it just got me.

    Don’t know what you should do, but you can put earplugs in part of the time – but you can’t persuade your visitor to come only part of the time.

  2. I remember seeing a video of that event (only once), and indeed people barely gave him a second look. You had to wonder about the impact of marketing and fame and how many people really appreciate any art for itself rather than for what they’ve been told about it. It was a fascinating experiment. (Not the point of your blog, which I also get. There is no other place around here where one hears the thrush so consistently. I hear him/her down your way regularly but nowhere else except fleetingly. You’re right: the rarity increases anticipation and pleasure. Hmmm.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *