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April 25, 2011
I heard a wood thrush and an ovenbird for the first time this spring yesterday, Easter Sunday. I can’t claim, as I did last year, that I heard the first thrush of the year, only that I first heard a thrush on Easter. We were away for the weekend, so I can’t say for sure that they hadn’t been here for a day or two already. We did not hear them on our walk along Crusher Road at about five o’clock, but I said to Jani that this felt like the right day, with a front moving up from the south and the understory in full leaf. I checked my journal when I came in from our walk and was reminded that they didn’t come until April 29 last year and April 26 the year before that. But April 23 or 24 always sticks in my mind as the day of their arrival, and certainly the stage was set.
Once again, I pictured them on the wing across the Pine Barrens, striking the fall line around Kingston, moving west along the ridge, through Princeton, Mount Rose, then here. When I went out to fill the bird feeders about seven o’clock, I heard an ovenbird in the underbrush just up the hill from our front porch. And then I heard the music of the thrush’s broken flute drifting like gossamer through the poplars and oaks east along the ridge.
The renewal of spring, the moment of fruition, will always be for me the arrival of these birds, after their awesome journeys, some of them thousands of miles– all the more moving and mysterious because they return to the same thicket, the same branch. There’s a pair of ovenbirds who nest in a particular corner of our untouched acre; there’s a wood thrush who calls each year from the same branch midway up the same cherry tree.
But this year, perhaps because I’m on sabbatical and able to spend more time noticing and recording the signs of spring, I have been more than ever aware that the arrival of spring is not a discreet moment or even a series of moments on a continuum but something more like a strange attractor— full of pattern and beauty, infinite in detail, but non-periodic, a system whose motion never repeats. The branch is not the same as it was yesterday or a year ago, nor the thrush, nor I. The wildflowers come and go. So all we can do is make a loving inventory of particular signs and let them serve as emblems, as eigenstates of the wave function of spring: