The Haunting Hermit Thrush

Every so often, I think of pulling up my modern version of tent stakes and lighting out for new territory.  What would I miss?  A house I seem incapable of heating for much of the year?  A summer that’s been rain, downpour, sheets of storm?  A road nearly impassable in mud season?  Black flies?  Maggots in the brassica roots?

Walking down to the mailbox today, I realized I would miss the pure, haunting melody of the hermit thrush, this tiny, unassuming brown bird.  The hermit thrush is a forest bird, not a bird feeder creature, and not inclined to appear in a suburban backyard.  For just a brief bit of the year, the forest around us sings with its loveliness, an auditory treasure.

… we drop everything to listen as a
hermit thrush distills its fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end

unbroken music.

Amy Clampitt


Daughter, Words

My teenage daughter and I had a long drive through Vermont today.  Don’t laugh — I know Vermont’s a small state, but the roads bend all around these mountains.  She’ll be at an art program for two weeks.  Driving, we listened to a CD my dad had made, a sixties mix of music for a class he’d taught.  As we followed a swollen river, my daughter suddenly asked, “What music is this?”

“The blues.”

She listened, then said, “I hate the blues.”

I laughed.  Old spirituals?  Who could listen to those?  Things picked up for her with the Beatles, but she kept flipping the case around in her hand.  The name Lead Belly?  What the heck?  Like the line in a Carver short story, my daughter is a long tall drink of water. She’s funny and smart, and lovely and prickly in all kinds of ways.  Driving through that rainstorm, in this summer of so much downfall, I felt my own version of the blues hammering down on me; perhaps it’s the place in my life right now, in these tempestuous forties, but so many people I know are singing the blues.  Looking at my daughter from the edges of my eyes, I didn’t bother to remark that someday she will be riding her own vehement blues, through that particularly human experience of grief, and unfulfilled longing, and desire all churned up in a maelstrom.  But not too much I couldn’t help wishing; enough of the blues to render the sweet genuinely savory, but not so much to twist and distort my girl, this fine and good young woman.

All the way there, we talked, talked, talked.  On the return trip, I followed the Mad River Valley, and then crossed over the mountains in a misty rain, with only my poor self for company.  Not until I was nearing home did the rain cut back and the clouds lightened to mere rags of mist.  I took a slightly different road, along Stagecoach Road, where the farm fields spread green as giant sheets of emeralds, with great pockets of black mud. On my way to work, I will be back soon enough, tracing this path around Elmore Mountain, noticing whether the fields have dried, remembering the masses of apple blossoms this May and looking for signs of fruit fattening.  But all the while, I will be wondering what stories my daughter is gathering and how she will eagerly tell me, You really won’t believe this! Until then, how much I will miss her laughter.

the world … was not enough for (my mother) without me in it,
not the moon, the sun, Orion
cartwheeling across the dark, not
the earth, the sea–none of it
was enough, for her, without me.

— Sharon Olds