Pondering, Photographing, and Writing about Wild Places

The Hermit and The Thrush

He doesn’t show up in the yard all that often, but I have a soft spot for the little brown thrush with the spotted breast. He lights on a low limb outside the window, never for very long, then disappears. Brown thrashers, eastern towhees, and song sparrows all like the leaf litter I leave in the yard for them, but the little hermit thrush pays only a short visit, has his look about, then retreats back to the forest. A hermit, indeed.

A couple years ago, I sold a house in Chattanooga, moved short term to a friend’s farm, then on to a small rented cabin in the woods for a year, before returning to the edge of town. Upon leaving I announced my intention to begin a process of hermitification.

“That’s not a word,” certain friends would say.

“But you understand it’s meaning?”

Whether they believed it the best thing for me, or even understood my true intentions, most understood at least the meaning of the word on it’s face. I wished to get out and away. Maybe for a little while, maybe for a long while. I did not intend to disappear, rather to have a place where I could hide out when I didn’t care to be surrounded by people–something I find myself desiring more and more these days. Turns out, just under two years from my departure, I was back.

Now I sit in the flighty warmth of a drafty old house on the edge town and watch a solo bird come for a brief, silent visit, and return. And I envy him.

Birds have neither leases, nor mortgages, and no loitering or vagrancy laws prevent them from going where they will, when they will. They can be hermits like my little thrush, coming and going, peering in on the city dwellers, saying hello, even staying for a while with nothing preventing them from retreating to their hideout at a given moment.

I read that in some Scandinavian countries, laws permit free roaming for people. Hikers, travelers, even hermits who wish, cannot be prevented from crossing through any property regardless of ownership.

On the flip side, in Arizona even the waterways can be owned, and trespass forbidden.
Because those laws do not apply to birds, hermit thrushes live in parts of Arizona year round, while there have never been documented sighting in Scandinavian countries. Rare visits to the Celtic coast of the southwest tip of England are as close as they have come. Perhaps they did not find the leaf litter on the forest floors of Cornwall to their liking, and turned back.

It is not so much the ability to trespass or loiter without worry of conviction that piques my envy, though. Rather, I appreciate their having no need for the aforementioned leases and mortgages. They can stay where they will, for as long as they wish, for any reason or no reason at all, without binding contracts. And if they choose a new location, it matters not who the owner is or if they have interest in tenants. If the habitat suits, they can stay.
And wherever they go, there are plenty like myself who take pleasure in their presence.

Never have I heard anyone curse the hermit thrush for messing with the careful arrangement of his leaf litter, or straining the lower limbs of his redbud.

I don’t know why the hermit comes to my window. I have never seen him feeding on the holly berries with his cousin the robin. Neither have I spied him competing with waxwings for neighborhood mulberries. Perhaps he slips in low and unseen, slipping back out before the tenacious mockingbirds have a chance to scold and drive him away.

Maybe he just drops by to see how the moored folk spend their time, to remind him of his own freedom, the glories of his hermitification.

Or, perhaps he stops by to show me what I might have, were I willing to make the sacrifice.
If that is the case, through the old windows of this rented house, he might see me pour a glass of wine, turn up the thermostat, and sit down at the piano to make music nowhere near as beautiful as his own,. He might, then, begin to question the value of his freedom, but I doubt it.

I think the hermit thrush is likely just as happy in his place, as I am in mine. Hopefully, we can both continue to visit the other on occasion, even if we aren’t suited to stay. That is, if my music doesn’t drive him off for good.

What do you think?