Monday, May 03, 2010

HOW THE HERMIT THRUSH 
GOT ITS SONG

Hermit Thrush
Photo by mnlamberson


Across my many years of summering on Bald Mountain nothing delighted me more than listening to the song of the Hermit Thrush. I never got to see one singing nor was I able to pin down its location. Indeed, the sound was so lovely that I sometimes suspected the song might be coming from another spiritual realm. Now, thanks to an Iroquois legend, the hidden origins of its song are revealed:



Long ago the birds had no song. Only man could sing. Each day man greeted the rising sun with a song. The birds, as they flew by, listened to the beautiful song and they wished they too could sing. One day the Creator visited the earth.

The Creator walked around on the earth looking at all the things he had created. He noticed, though, that there was a great silence. Something was missing.

As the Creator thought about this, the sun sank behind the western hills. Then he heard the distant sound of a drum followed by the chanting of the sunset song. The sounds pleased the Creator.

When the Creator looked around, he noticed that the birds were also listening to the singing. "That's what's missing!" said the Creator. "Birds should also have songs."

The next day the Creator called all the birds to the great council. The birds came from far away.The sky filled with flying birds and the trees and bushes bent under the weight of so many birds.

The Creator sat on the council rock. The birds perched and became quiet. The Creator spoke.

"Would the birds like to have songs and be able to sing as the people sing?" With one voice, the birds replied, "Yes! Yes!"

The Creator spoke to them. "At tomorrow's dawn, fly as high in the sky as you can. When you can fly no higher, it is there where you will find your song. The bird who flies the highest will find the most beautiful song."

The next morning, all the Creator's birds gathered upon the land. Excitement spread throughout the birds. One small brown thrush was not excited. He was perched next to a great eagle. He looked at the strength of the eagle and thought to himself, "What chance do I have of reaching the most beautiful song? This eagle is so great. I will never be able to compete with a bird such as he."

The eagle, eager for daybreak, took no notice of the small brown thrush near him. The thrush had an idea. The thrush flew to the eagle's head and quickly hid beneath his feathers. The eagle stretched his wings. "With my great wings, I will surely fly to the most beautiful song."

At that moment, the first break of dawn appeared. With a great roar of wings, the birds took off. The morning sky remained dark as so many birds flew up higher and higher.

The first bird found his song. He had flown so hard you could hear a hum coming from his wings. The hummingbird song plainly calls, "Wait, wait for me." Next the cowbird tires, and as he flies down to the earth, he sees other birds weaken and find their songs.

The sky began to darken once again. As the sun went down behind the horizon, only the Eagle, the Hawk, the Owl, the Buzzard, and the Loon flew higher.

As daybreak came the next day, only Eagle, the chief of all birds, was left. He flew steady and strong until the sun was halfway in the sky. He looked and saw he was the only bird left in the sky. He began triumphantly soaring to the earth. The thrush awoke from his sound sleep at the back of eagle's head. He hopped off the eagle's head and began flying upward. The eagle saw the thrush begin his journey, but was exhausted. The eagle could do nothing more than stare at him in anger.

The little thrush flew higher and higher. He soon came to a hole in the sky. Entering the hole, he heard a beautiful song coming from the Spirit World. He stayed and learned the song. When he had learned it perfectly, he took leave of that place and returned anxiously to earth. He could not wait to share this most beautiful song with the others.

As he came closer to earth, he could see council rock, and he could see the great eagle, Stagwia, waiting for him. All the other birds waited in silence for thrush's arrival upon the earth.

The thrush, nearing the earth, no longer felt proud of his song. He began to feel ashamed that he cheated to find this song. He feared Stagwia, for he was the one thrush cheated out of the song. He flew in silence to the deep woods. He hid in shame under the branches of the largest tree. He could not proudly share his song.He was so ashamed that he wanted no one to see him.

There you will find him even today. The Hermit Thrush never comes out into the open because he is still ashamed that he cheated. Sometimes, he can't help himself, though, and he must sing his beautiful song. When he does this, the other birds stop singing because they know the song of the Hermit Thrush is from the Spirit World. That is why the Hermit Thrush is so shy and that is why his song is the most beautiful song of all the birds.

Listen to the Song of the Hermit Thrush


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