The hermit thrush alone is a good reason to live in Vermont. All by himself, this little brown bird with the speckled breast makes up for the cold, dark winters, the messy mud seasons, and the spotty wi-fi coverage.
He comes by his name honestly. He declines to visit feeders, but stays hidden in the woods where, during the nesting season, he decants a pure, cool, silvery rill of sound. I live too much in my head to notice a lot of what Nature, like a street vendor setting out her wares, puts out for my delight. I can pass a lilac in full splendor with barely a glance, but the song of the hermit thrush stops me in my tracks. When he sings, I have to stand and hear him to the end, or I would feel like I was walking out in the middle of a recital.
Although he shies from applause, there is nothing timid or self deprecating about his performance: he sings with the aplomb of a seasoned performer. I wonder what a young hermit’s first song is like–is the timing off, are there false notes, or does it emerge from him as faultless and elegant as that of his father in his prime? As I have never heard a thrush miss a note, I suspect that they are all born musical prodigies.
This has been a good summer for hermits. The thrushes sing late into the morning, take a short break, and resume well before the sun goes down. The virus-imposed stillness in my life has made it easier for me to pay attention. At sunrise and sunset I come out of my own hermitage and listen to the invisible singer pour out his melody from the shelter of the woods.
Whenever I hear the thrush, my grasping, non-Zen self immediately pleads “don’t stop. Keep going. Encore!” And I waste the last clear perfect notes thinking that the solstice is already behind us, and all too soon he will head south, and the woods will return to silence. But isn’t the very fact that he’s not around all year, that he shuns my feeders, that he stays hidden in his woodland cloister what makes him so precious? If I heard him in all seasons, would I still listen?
From all indications, the coming winter will be an especially dark one. Like the chipmunks, I will retreat from porch and yard and go to earth in my cottage, to sleep and snack and endure as best I can. I will be grateful for every cheeping titmouse and chickadee that visits my feeder while I await the little brown singer’s return. I will think of him scratching for insects in the leaf litter of some southern wood, but saving his song for the love season in Vermont, and for his fellow hermit, me.