Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Monday, September 9, 2019

On Nature Writing and the gift of a Rare Thrush

Today I'm here to share the story of an average-looking bird with strange preferences.

But first I want to ask; have you ever felt inspired by the work of American Nature Writers like Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Rachel Carson and others?

In case you're not familiar with these nature writers, here is a link to a recent blog I posted which highlights John Muir's account of the American Dipper:

In creative ways they managed to tap into the intersection of intellect and emotion in their experiences of our wild neighbors and the wild spaces they call home.

The great news is that we can too!

That's right, YOU can do some nature writing. Here's how.

  1. Note the general impression, size, shape, colors and/or patterns of the wildlife you are observing (or want to observe). Read about it in field guides, other books, and the internet. Seek to understand what the experts have to say about its life history, its habitat preference, and the role it plays in the ecosystem. (sometimes this research can come later rather than first)
  2.  Get a small notebook and a pencil. Go to wild spaces. Locate your wild neighbor. Record your thoughts on points 3 and 4. 
  3. What emotions does this wild neighbor awaken within you? Is there something about this wild neighbor that resonates with your own life experience?  
  4. Consider all of these things as you tap into the intersection of intellect and emotion, sharing your experience of a wild neighbor with your own words. 
 The better we know our wild neighbors the more we'll discover ourselves. Every wild neighbor has the potential to awaken something of God in us.

      As we get to know our wild neighbors better we'll find that they ask something of us; that as a bond of kinship we might treat the inhabitants of every wild space as a neighbor, and as such a neighbor with whom we share the love of Jesus. What's it look like to love wildlife and wild spaces as ourselves? To afford each the right to a healthy environment to thrive, as we so rightfully insist for ourselves?

      Our wild neighbors ask something of us; that as a bond of kinship we might treat the inhabitants of every wild space as a neighbor, and as such a neighbor with whom we share the love of Jesus.

      I suggest that loving our wild neighbors begins with understanding, empathy, and inspiration.

      Now you are ready to go and do some of your own nature writing.

      But before I send you off into wild spaces, I'd like to share my nature writing about that average-looking bird with strange preferences.

      It is a bird that Erin and I had the joy of encountering during our recent trip to the Adirondacks, and it goes by the name Bicknell's thrush.

      Bicknell's thrush is a rare bird that manages to thrive in the High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in upper New York. It is in the same family as well-known thrushes like the wood thrush, hermit thrush, American robin, and Eastern bluebird. Bicknell's thrush is most closely related to the gray-cheeked thrush which breeds farther north in Canada.

      The Bicknell's thrush is at home in the high elevations of New York as well as Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Nova Scotia as well as New Brunswick and southern Quebec.

      When it comes to the Bicknell's thrush's future, there is a bigger story that involves us. There is a problem, rather, a challenge before those who would preserve this sensitive species whose population is presently on a declining trend.

      In a 2017 article about Bicknell's thrush for the Audubon Society, freelance journalist Laura Poppick,  reports the following:

      "As the climate changes, warmer temperatures creeping up mountain slopes could potentially push the thrushes off their mountaintops; indeed, Bicknell’s Thrushes have already disappeared from Mount Greylock, the tallest peak in Massachusetts and only place in the state where the species has been observed." (

       And so our wild neighbor the Bicknell's thrush would ask us to work towards solutions to slow and reverse the effects of climate change on it's mountain habitat, and to preserve potential habitat in the higher elevations to which it may have to migrate to for breeding if the trend of a warming climate continues.

      My experience with the Bicknell's thrush that Erin and I encountered on Porter Mountain felt like a truly magical experience. I expected the best I might get was to hear one calling from the thick of the mountain pines. What we got was even better. One Bicknell's thrush flew in silently. It watched us from thick cover, and we could see it too!

      Here is a reflection of my brief encounter with a Bicknell's thrush the morning of 8/31/2019  as I recorded it with pencil and notebook in the field:

      I sense a tone of confidence behind your inquisitive gaze
      as you watch us noisy hikers from the safety of the alpine balsam thicket,
      offering a few good looks between the branches before vanishing back into the shadows
      like the introvert who is not afraid to be seen but prefers the solitary life.
      Your habitat and your population are in peril. 
      Yet your presence fills my heart with hope. 
      For you. For me. For all of us. 
      To find joy and hope in community with hikers, with beautiful and fragrant balsam fir, with thicket loving Bicknell's thrush. My heart is full.
      The Spirit of God is at work here. Awaken something new of you in me, Spirit of God.
      As I turn to hike back down the mountain I am a changed person in some sense. Of this much I am sure; the Rich Hanlon who now descends this mountain is not the same Rich Hanlon who started up it two hours ago. I cannot put a finger on it. But I know this to be true. 
      The mountain and all of its inhabitants are an expression of Divine creativity. The better I know my wild neighbors the more I discover myself.

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