Delight on the Edge of Chaos–the Lesson of the Brown Thrasher

Close-up of a wisteria in bloom

One of the things that is hardest about this confinement, for me personally, is that I am physically separated from my land, while I shelter in place with my family in town.

I am grateful that my backyard is large, the trees plentiful, my garden begun, and the weather warming.

It is a balm.

When I can, as much as I can, I sit myself in it and I listen.

One of the lessons that my land has been teaching me is that I can connect with it and its inhabitants from anywhere in the world. I reach my awareness down into my roots, down into the earth, and request the connection. The trees, through their own network of roots and leaves, transport me.

Yesterday, I sat in my yard and listened. I felt myself transported to Dragon Hollow, to the meadow where I conduct secret ceremonies. I felt the breath of the land and the peace of the wild things.

And then I heard the voice: “Be here by being here.”

How do I explain this in words? The lesson is that everything that is present for me in that meadow is also present for me here, now, where I am physically. That there is no limit to my ability to connect and also no limit to the availability of resources exactly where and when I am.

The voice was asking me to be present for my land by being present here in my own backyard.

I brought my awareness then back to where I sat.

The birdsong in my yard is astonishing this time of year. So many varieties, so many songs. So much joy.

As I sat listening, one song in particular kept demanding my attention. Although they are usually shy, the brown thrashers in my neighborhood have been showing themselves to me lately, and that is whose song I was hearing.

The song announced to me: “I, Brown Thrasher, have something to tell you.”

A message for the humans. A lesson for these times.

Thus spoke Brown Thrasher:

1.Exercise discernment

Like many birds in its family, the brown thrasher is a target of the parasitic behavior of the cow bird. The cow bird, like the more famous cuckoo, is a nest parasite. That means it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. After a cowbird egg hatches, the baby aggressively evicts other babies from the nest, ensuring its own exclusive access to its unwitting foster parents’ resources.

The brown thrasher is frequently a target of the cow bird because its eggs are about the right size for confusion and its nest is a good environment for cow bird eggs.

However, though targeted equally with other similar birds, the brown thrasher is much less likely than these other species to be a victim. The thrasher is extraordinarily good at discerning the difference between their own eggs and those of an invader, and they do not hesitate to evict a stranger’s eggs immediately, before they can cause harm.

Brown thrasher teaches us to be discerning about what we allow into our nest. In this time, that can mean quite literally to be careful about not allowing viral contamination to enter your home, and taking measures to prevent it.

It can also be metaphorical and energetic, in terms of what you read, what news you consume, and what emotions you absorb. If you’re an empath, you may be absorbing a lot of energy right now that isn’t yours. Brown thrasher teaches us to discern what belongs to us and reject what does not.

My friend, the gifted shaman Robbie Warren, provides some excellent guidance for empaths in how to discern what’s yours, and what to do with energy that is not yours, in this video:

When you eliminate what’s not yours from your energetic field, you will have more energetic resources to focus on your own health and growth, and on nurturing your family and creations.

Additionally, brown thrashers are masters of camouflage, and you are very lucky if you get to see one out in the open. Yet, at the same time, they will aggressively defend their territory when necessary, even known to attack humans and other large mammals who stray too close to their nests.

This teaches us to discern when to lay low and wait, and when to be aggressive in seeking what we need or defending what is ours.

2. Thrive on the edge 

Brown thrashers are what biologists call “edge dwellers.” This means that they prefer and thrive in environments at the edge of ecosystems; for instance, between a forested area and a meadow. This is in contrast, for instance, to the pileated woodpecker, which is a bird of deep forests. 

Edge environments provide a lot of variety and diversity. For the brown thrasher, an edge environment provides cover in the form of dense brush, access to food in the form of leaf litter (where they find grubs and other insects to munch on), food in the form of berries (lots of fruit plants are also edge dwellers), and much more.

Edge environments also tend to be areas of relative chaos. A deep, mature forest environment is generally quiet, peaceful, and predictable. The species that thrive there tend to do so in balance with one another, well regulated by the primary trees and keystone animal species.

An edge, by contrast, contains many plants and animals competing for resources and space, often without a clear sense of “leadership” from any one set of species.

Annual plants tend to thrive in edge environments, many of them with showy flowers. This means that the scenery tends to change from year to year as populations of plants shift and move. Aggressive plants will tend to grow well in edge environments, while meanwhile the landscape changes due to natural succession.

We are all living in an “edge” environment right now. There is a lot of chaos, a lot of shifting, a lot of uncertainty.

Brown thrasher teaches us how to thrive in this environment. How to seek cover, find opportunities, and shift our behavior in creative response to what is happening in the environment. Call on brown thrasher to teach you how to be patient with uncertainty, how to access the opportunities available to you right now, and how to mitigate the dangers of this chaotic time.

3. Greet each morning with delight

The brown thrasher has easily one of the most beautiful singing voices of any bird in the Eastern United States. In fact, while the mockingbird gets a lot of praise for its beautiful and versatile song, the brown thrasher actually has a wider repertoire and is probably very often the bird you’re hearing when you think you’re hearing a mockingbird.

Mockingbirds bring their song right out into the open. You KNOW when there’s a mockingbird around. The brown thrasher may or may not show itself, but you will hear its song if it is singing in your vicinity.

Have a listen.

It’s easy to feel, in a time like this, that our situation is unprecedented and scary and that there is no way we can be joyful in the midst of it.

But what we humans are experiencing right now is not only not new to us, it is not even close to new to the world.

Many species of animals and plants have been suffering and dying due to our interventions over the past hundred-plus years. The brown thrasher among them. Habitat loss due to our population growth and demand for resources has caused their populations to steadily decline.

Life is harder for brown thrashers than it used to be.

But they do not stop singing. Every morning, the brown thrasher arises and lifts its voice into the morning.

Brown thrasher teaches us the value and the beauty of lifting our voices, both literally and metaphorically, and announcing each morning our place in the world of things. To delight in being alive and in having the moment that we have.

Brown thrasher also teaches us to choose to add beauty to the world, no matter what else is going on for us.

You may have noticed that the photo at the top of this post is not a brown thrasher. If you want to see what the brown thrasher looks like, this excellent article can help.

I don’t have my own photo because brown thrashers don’t generally care to be photographed. But wisteria doesn’t mind, and wisteria adds beauty too. Wisteria, in fact, is an excellent example of another species that also thrives on the edge, needing trees to climb but enough sunlight to thrive. It can be invasive but, when well-managed, it can be a delight.

How are you managing your life on the edge right now? Can you also use both discernment and delight to make this into a time when you thrive? Can you call on the energy of Brown Thrasher to assist you?

Can you center yourself exactly where you are, and allow the lessons of this time and space to teach you?