EXPERIENCE

MY HERMIT THRUSH
by
Jere French

Marianne heard the soft thump against the sliding glass door of my bedroom.  Yes a bird, lying as if dead, at the base of the window.  We got down our knees to get a better look.

A Hermit Thrush migrating through our woods—a fall regular this time of year.  Killed?  I hoped not. The bird is a favorite of mine, probably from a long ago experience in the Chiricahua National Monument in Southeastern Arizona.

It was summer and the masses of birders had long departed, leaving this pristine wilderness to those of us who prefer to bird in relative silence and serenity.  Yes, Chiricahua offers plenty of solitude the right time of year.

Mysterious, as well, just a kind of feeling about that mystical canyon.  Alone, nothing but forest, a wandering stream to cross and cross again, with those stunning ochre colored cliffs looming above me, enclosing the valley, shutting off the late afternoon sun while spreading wide, darkening shadows.

And a Hermit Thrush following me on foot and wing, stopping as I stopped, and starting up again, twenty paces back on the trail.

And on that warm summer afternoon the stream led me through the canyon to a shallow pond, one side opening to the distant cliffs and the deep blue cloudless sky.

I found a flat stone and sat very still at the pond’s edge, watching a Golden Eagle descending towards me.  The thrush took my example, and hunkered down in the scrub just off the trail.

On came the eagle, in wide circles, now close enough for me to hear the sound of those great wings, talons down, landing on the bank of the little pond, no more than fifteen feet from where I was sitting.

Why land so close to me?  Surely the Eagle, with that magnificent eyesight, had noticed me from above.  Surely neither I, nor my cowering thrush friend, could be of interest to him?

And so we three remained on the bank of that shallow pond, the three of us alone, accepting one another’s presence.

After a few minutes more the eagle, with a great show of elan, lifted off, pumping its broad wings to gain height, leaving me to wonder.

Then I was off as well, crossing back and forth over the wandering stream.  And yes, whenever I paused to look back there was my curious companion, keeping his distance, stopping when I stopped.

Why this apparent interest in me?  Hoping I would drop some crumbs?   Just a city sparrow at heart, waiting patiently for me to fumble away my bag lunch?

Or was it just curiosity.  Never seen a two legged critter before?  It didn’t make sense, but yet he followed me, hopping and flapping along the trail, always there, stopping when I stopped

What have you found so interesting in me?  Havent you seen hordes of us in April, rattling about, shouting and pointing?  Isnt this the favored ground of springtime birders seeking the Lucifer Hummingbird, the Elegant Trogon.  Did nobody come to see you?

Marianne and I were down on our bellies watching my dazed crasher as he began to come around.  “Oh look” she whispered, “he’s trying to stand up!”

And so he was, gazing warily back at us through the glass.  Then after a bit he began wobbling about, looking around for the mate who had long since departed.

Now it was surely time to catch her up again, and so in a sudden flash he was gone, winging southward with our best wishes.

As for that long ago meeting on that lonely trail in the Chiricahua, isn’t it the unexpected interventions with nature that we find the most memorable?

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