Monday, July 20, 2009

A Bird in the Hand

July 9, 2009
Thursday a.m.

Up early to go on a morning hike led by J. Walter Brain of Lincoln. He knows the Walden area like few others – not only the geography or biology of the area – but also its history. He himself is a part of that history, due to his conservation efforts to help preserve the Walden Woods over the last 30 years. He has walked many a mile in these woods, a woods which he clearly loves, and it is a pleasure to accompany him.

Today he took us for a walk to Emerson's Cliff by way of the Hatchet Path. We paused by a large boulder at the top of a steep little rise, where naturally you’d stop and catch your breath. It was called the Philosopher’s Seat.

Walter told us that Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to this area as “My Garden.” Along the way he pointed out plants, and identified birds by song (since they stayed mostly hidden in the forest canopy.) One song in particular was missing from the mix, however. The hermit thrushes -- which Corky and I heard the day before, along this same trail --were silent. Walter shared a poem about this most beautiful song of the woods. I was toward the back of the group as we approached the Cliff, and one woman told me that she had never heard a hermit thrush before, and wondered what it sounded like.
Aha! Technology to the rescue! I thought.

A week earlier I had finally activated a cellphone, just for this trip. I had bought the dern thing at Christmastime -- the cheapest prepaid one I could find. But my resistance to electronica was SO strong. The phone just sat there in its package, unloved and appreciated - until a few days before my vacation in July.Then I got it set up & going, and surprised myself by being able to download a custom ringtone, from a website that birding buddy Lindsey had told me about. Haha, I'll show them that an old dog can learn new tricks! So instead of the cheesy disco ringtones that come with the phone, I now had one that sounded like ... you guessed it ... a hermit thrush!

Back to our hike. Breathlessly I pushed a bunch of buttons to get where I could play the lovely flutelike song of the hermit thrush for that curious woman. There! Brrrrrr ….tweedle tweedle!
It was sort of loud.
The woman said, "ah, so that's it, thanks."
At that moment I looked up -- and saw the rest of the group, including Walter, looking at me with chagrin.
While I had been in the back of the group fooling around with the phone, in the front part of the group, Walter had stopped cold in his tracks and exclaimed "There it is! The song of the hermit thrush!" and proceeded to search the treetops for it. Well he located it, all right - in the palm of my hand.

After a good laugh, the walk continued over to Heywood's Meadow (really a swamp). At one end there is an active beaver dam. It's a great place to come to early or late in the day, despite the commuter trains thundering past, now and then.
The morning light comes into this place gradually. Somewhere a kingfisher rattles.

On the return path you go through a grove of ancient pines as tall as the ribs of a cathedral.

Thinking of today - of digitized birdsongs - of trying to convey the beauties of nature, somehow - and finding this stanza from Emerson's poem My Garden:

Canst thou copy in verse one chime
Of the wood-bell's peal and cry,
Write in a book the morning's prime,
Or match with words that tender sky?

Thursday pm.
Lectures & presentations have begun at the old Masonic Hall in town.
Between sessions, visited Richard being "Henry Thoreau" at the House Replica near the Parking area. Found him sitting on a chair in the corner, while three lovely women sat on his bed, plying him with questions.
A situation that Henry never found himself faced with, methinks.

I should mention that during the four days of the Annual Gathering, there are many events happening, some of them concurrently. So far, I have been choosing the outdoor/nature type events over the indoor/academic discussions, though both are fascinating.
Even though some of the renowned-expert lecturers have travelled halfway round the world to present papers,
and I have travelled across half of New England to get here, there is still the possibility that if the day be hot enough, I will blow it all off to go swimming in Walden Pond …

Dinner - a picnic at the house on Virginia Road where Thoreau was born in 1817. It is being restored and will house the Thoreau Society offices (in a new energy-efficient addition to the back of the house) some time in the future.

A ghost of residents past?

Early to bed so as to not be a complete zombie on the 6:30 am hike tomorrow, at Great Meadows with Peter Alden.


  1. What a marvelous adventure! We, too, have resisted cell phones (we're still sans, though we also resisted email at one time and now we're addicted). Your thrush call, however, seems like a useful use of the device!

  2. Haha I'm still so glad my ringtone site recommendation resulted in a hilarious event! You should see the confused looks I get when my cell phone rings in public and people suddenly hear an Eastern Wood-Pewee calling in the middle of Hannaford!