How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move my thoughts begin to flow.
Thoreau walked all over New England. The titles of his books tell you just how much he used his legs to generate his ideas: Cape Cod, The Maine Woods, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and, of course, Walden.
Although most people would associate Thoreau with Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts (and be assured I will make my pilgrimage there), he loved to walk everywhere.
And look. And think. And write.
Today I will go to a place close to his heart. And not too far a walk. For him.
It’s about 20 miles from Boston. On the Fitchburg Line: The train he tried to make his peace with during his time in the woods.
Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is one of the bird sanctuaries of the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
And after many years of expectation, I have finally become a member. And made my first Audubon pilgrimage.
It was a glorious fall day.
Thoreau enjoyed this place because he could climb the hill on a clear day and see the summit of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, about 60 miles away.
This hill is called a drumlin: the opposite of a kettle, which is a hole that has been scoured out of the Earth by a glacier.
As you may recall, Jamaica Pond is a kettle pond.
The glacier taketh. And the glacier giveth.
Here is the view from the drumlin at the eponymous farm.
Thoreau loved Mount Monadnock so much, he climbed it four times.
(That’s another delight I am looking forward to.)
This was the first time I had used my binoculars since early March, when I went to Papua, Indonesia, to see the birds of paradise. Which I saw!
And will see. Until the day I die.
The king bird of paradise.
The 12-wired bird of paradise.
The magnificent bird of paradise.
And last, but by no means least:
The lesser bird of paradise.
It was very hard. Slogging through the malaria-infested rainforest, it was difficult to get a footing because of all the mud and the vines.
And it was hot. Especially with long sleeves and long pants to guard against the mosquitoes.
And try holding a pair of binoculars aloft to scan a certain tree. For 10 minutes.
While the sweat is dripping into your eyes. And the lenses fog up in the pre-dawn light.
Going to Drumlin Farm was a total lark compared to that: A wonderful fall day, nice and cool, with well-marked trails, instead of jungle.
The toughest challenge was shuffling through all those lovely leaves.
The birds I saw at Drumlin Farm were not nearly as spectacular as the BOP’s (as they are called), but I loved them just as much, if not more.
Because they were the birds of my youth.
The birds of my home.
The birds of New England.
Blue jays, cardinals, white-throated sparrows, downy woodpeckers, juncos, titmice, chickadees.
If you want to see birds, don’t go deep into the woods.
Look for a space like this.
It’s called a liminal habitat: The border between two mini-habitats.
Birds love them. They flit from field to tree, and back again.
They can always shelter quickly, but still enjoy the food.
And the company.
As I walked along the edge of the trees, I didn’t see a thing.
Which gave me a chance to be alone with my thoughts.
Always a great pleasure.
Then, a head bobbing in the field.
I first thought “eastern meadowlark”. Because of the black breast patch.
But then I saw there were two. And knew they had to be yellow-shafted flickers. Because of the male’s distinctive mustache.
As I was looking at the pair on the ground, something flashed up through my binoculars’ field of vision.
Something red, white and blue.
Then I trained up, and saw.
On the same branch.
Mr and Mrs Eastern Bluebird.
And then I knew I was home.
I would like to thank Mr Thoreau for his fine example.
One that anyone can follow, even in a Time of Pestilence:
Walk. And look. And think. And write.