The Recluse

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When the kids were young, we knew an honest-to-goodness recluse. On the occasions when we would bring something over to his house, we never got beyond the screened-in porch or kitchen area. But I would peer into the great beyond and see the trappings of a home caught in time, spider plants in macramé holders, vintage globes with nations that no longer exist, transistor radios, Baby Ben clocks and stacks of paperback novels. No recluse is going to spend any extra time shopping for the latest fads. He seemed pretty happy without much interaction with the outside world. I am thinking he was ahead of his time, as he isolated long before we all experienced a year or two of just that, thanks to COVID. The kids remember a big bin of bird seed on the porch which they would dive their hands down in as a sensory activity before I shooed them back into the car. I remember binoculars with a worn leather strap at the ready on a hook inside his door, and I figure it was his love of birds that connected us over the years. Around that time, we watched To Kill a Mockingbird and similarly the kids were fascinated with Boo Radley, one of the more famous recluses in literature. They spent afternoons pretending to be him and stowing their trinkets in the hole of some tree. And when we stopped to think about it, there were many real-life recluses who contributed much in their quiet standoffish way. Think Brian Wilson, Harper Lee, JD Salinger, Bobby Fisher and Emily Dickinson as a start.

And, if that list is not impressive enough, we have our own reclusive bird, the wood thrush, who lives in forested areas throughout town. He has a haunting, flute-like song that penetrates the woods on most July days. The thrush is related to our robin and when he is not singing, he leads a quiet existence lurking in the understory. He is a brownish bird with a speckled breast who feeds in the leaf litter looking mainly for invertebrates. The number of wood thrush in New England is on the decline, largely due to habitat loss during breeding and wintering times. The concern is such that the International Wood Thrush Conservation Alliance (IWOTHCA) was formed and continues to look into ways to help the species. One of the organization’s efforts has included attaching small geolocators to some thrushes to track their movement and collect data which will help efforts to preserve this species and other woodland habitat songbirds.

But locally, if you do come across a wood thrush, he will look perpetually shocked with his staring wide eyes and protruding pot belly that works really well on him. According to the folks at Cornell, both the male and female are all in as they raise their brood. Once their first set of chicks have got some meat on their bones, the male takes over in the feeding department, enabling the female to set up another nest nearby and start another family. When both broods have fledged, they feed them in separate sites in their territory until the chicks are ready to be independent and turn into full grown recluses, never bothering a soul as they fill the forest with their beautiful song.

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