For most of my childhood, my family had a home in northern Vermont. It was a home base during my family’s peripatetic years, and it remained our fond home after we had moved to Illinois and it no longer made sense to have a home in the northeast. And so Vermont became an adopted home, where I spent many summers and Christmases.
One of the summers I remember most fondly was the summer I was thirteen. My mother, grandfather, aunt, and I spent the summer there, enjoying the milder weather which was a relief from the sticky heat of central Illinois. I don’t remember much about how we spent our days, but I remember that almost every night as my mom cooked dinner, I would sit at the dining room table with my grandfather playing Scrabble. (He didn’t go easy on me, and I can brag of pretty formidable Scrabble skills thanks to him.) We sat in that lovely room with a gentle breeze blowing through the open windows, the dappled sun coming through the woods next to the house. I adored my grandfather, and these were truly precious moments for me.
That summer we began to notice a delightful accompaniment to our Scrabble games: just as the sun started to dip below the horizon, some mysterious bird perched somewhere in our woods would start the most melodic, haunting song I’ve ever heard. We all commented on it and started to look forward to its nightly arrival.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was a stressed twenty-something working my first job in New York City that I realized that this place/moment/memory was my “happy place.” I was visiting a neurologist for migraines and when the doctor examined me, I suffered a terrible case of white coat syndrome, my heart unnecessarily galloping out of fear. The doctor asked me to close my eyes and imagine a beautiful, calm, happy place. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and there it was, even though I hadn’t thought about it much in the intervening decade: my mother cooking dinner in the kitchen, looking out at her flower garden; my grandfather pondering his Scrabble tiles; a gentle, late-afternoon light spilling through the dining room windows; and the sound of a solitary bird singing its exquisitely beautiful song from the nearby birches and pines.
The bird became something of a legend in my family. We never saw it and never figured out what kind of bird it was. My mom and I even spent one evening at some point in the last decade on a website, listening to samples of birdsong. “Does that sound like it?” I’d ask. We never found it, and I’m kind of glad we didn’t. I contend that beauty and wonder are in direct proportion to the degree of mystery involved.
Recently, here in Seattle, my son and I have noticed a bird that makes a similar twilight performance. I don’t think its song is quite as beautiful as that of the bird from my Vermont summers. But my son and I are impressed, and he likes to open up the door onto our deck in the evenings to hear it better. I love to see my son being enchanted by things like this, and I wonder if he’s old enough that he’ll remember the beautiful songbird from his Seattle childhood. For me, this bird is something of a portal, taking me back to that beautiful summer that looms dreamlike in my imagination. Peaceful, quiet, radiant. Perfect.