a bird in the hand…

…weighs almost nothing. Yesterday morning, the sound of one hitting the window looking out on the arbutus and mountain ash trees. (On sunny days we close the bamboo blinds, in part so that birds feeding on the ash berries won’t fly drunkenly into glass.) I looked out, hoping to see nothing — sometimes the birds fly off, only a little stunned by their collision. But yesterday there was a tiny brown bird on the grass below the window. I went out and carefully picked it up. It was alive, looking around with its bright eyes. I held it upright, so it could breathe. And it could turn its head. Its wings were neatly folded against its body. Should I have been surprised that it was a wren? Or at least I think it was a wren. It was the right size, its beak was the right shape, long and slightly curved. But although its back was lightly speckled with soft russet, its tail wasn’t barred. So a young wren, a recent fledgling? It weighed almost nothing. But its heart against my fingers was strong. I tried putting it on a low crotch on the mountain ash but it tumbled out. I picked it up again and put it on a mossy stump.


I had to leave for a few hours on errands and when I returned, the bird had flown. Or this is what I want to believe.

There have been other bird rescues this summer. A robin — again, a young one. And that one flew away in a matter of minutes. A northern flicker who screamed as I approached it — it was lying on its back, wings outspread. I gathered it into a tea-towel, trying to ignore its screams. And it too recovered. John watched it hop from the stump — the same stump! — to climb a nearby fir where it sat for some time.

Another year, a nuthatch. A kinglet.

But the wren, as I sit as my desk and fill in invoices for a book based on wrens and their relationships with a woman and an elderly man living on the west coast of Vancouver Island, their music…I was glad to have a moment yesterday when the full weight of a wren paused in my hands.

The late Irish poet Michael Hartnett wrote a beautiful poem, in Irish first, and then translated to English, in which he remembers young wrens flying from their nest and forming a necklet around him in a damp meadow. A moment of wonder, and also a premonition of vocation:

To them I was not human
but a stone or tree:
I felt a sharp wonder
they could not feel.

That was when the craft came
which demands respect.
Their talons left on me
scars not healed yet.

–from “A Necklace of Wren”


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