Not at ALL What You Thought

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Birds' Brains

For some reason, when they had a score of the lushest bushes and trees to choose among, a couple of robins instead chose one of the busiest thoroughfares in our neighborhood: the porch light over our front door. I’ve seen a lot of nests in my day, but theirs is the first I’ve seen so close or so often. It seemed to have sprung fully-formed from the imaginations of those crazy birds. The first time I saw it –my older brother brought it to our attention—it was finished.

“When in the world did they find the time to build it?” I wondered aloud. Apparently, it may take only a few days to build the kind of nest Robin built, but it’s supposed to last for at least a month.
“Y’all gotta get out more often,” my brother said. And that’s the thing: any sensible coupla birds would have recognized our front door as entirely too busy for feathery family building.

I’ve known a lot of birds. Mama once had a parakeet, and she loved that bird. He used to chirp at her, specifically, and Mama called him “Tweety Bird.” He flew away one day when I was cleaning out his nest, and somebody opened the back door. When I was a kid, I had two ring-necked doves, one male and one female (or so I was told by the folk who gave ‘em to me). They lived in a tall, tall birdcage that stood, on long legs, on the floor. The female would lay an egg or two, and the male would dive down and crush them. Easy come, easy go. We gave them away eventually. But after that (I think it was after that), I took home a wild baby bird, somebody the neighborhood Girls’ Club had found, for the weekend. I fed it Daily Dog Food, which was canned and mostly cereal, and, apparently (consequently?), isn’t sold anymore, as far as I can tell. That bird died when I brought it back to the Girls’ Club, and somebody fed it too big a morsel to gulp down. I remember my sister and me finding a lot of baby birds one day when we were little and lived in “the country” (Franklin, Virginia, under the Union Carbide Paper Mill). Because Mama refused to let one more bird in the house, we stationed the babies on bush limbs near the house. Of course, next morning, we learned that we had given some cat/s a tasty night meal.

One wild bird even died in my hands (somebody said of a heart attack). That’s the bird I remember most. I worried about Robin having a heart attack, all the time. It seemed to me, in the early days of the nest –when Goobs and I kept forgetting about it until we heard the panicked flutter of wings just overhead—that Robin watched our approach, made herself sit there and sit there on her clutch, the sound of her heart hammering in her little bird ears, until she could stand the terror no longer and had to fly off, leave her babies –almost certainly to be eaten by Brobdingnagians.

And then, when the coast was clear, she’d come back and start all over again.

And then there was the precariousness of the situation. To me, the nest seems shaped like a thick, messy, shapeless handbag, draped over our porch light. I pictured shattered little eggshells strewed all over our concrete front porch. One morning, it seemed my fears had been realized.

“Yo*, I found an empty eggshell on the porch,” Goobs, heading back from taking out the recycling, said.
“Yeah.” Aw, man. Robin’s babies didn’t make it, I thought. Or an egg fell out. Or one went rotten because Robin hadn’t had enough brood time, what with the front door opening and slamming all hours of the day and night. I had predicted the screams of hungry baby birds greeting us as we went inside and came outside. (Goobs promised to yell, “Get it together!*” if she heard too much screaming.) Now it wasn’t going to happen. My heart sank.

And then one evening, on my way out to bible study, I looked up and saw the little gold beaks peeking out of the nest. Robin’s babies were here! I was suddenly filled with a sense of the miraculous.

Life goes on, somehow, in spite of everything pointed at it, conniving against it.

Dear Jesus, my Brother, teach us to keep hoping and believing and looking up.

*She’s Really Cool. That’s why she talks that way.
*Goobs’ currently favorite injunction