“Was that a wren?”

Most mornings, a winter wren comes to my study window. It creeps along the cedar trim around the window, searching for insects. It darts in and out of this little birdhouse.


No bird has ever nested in this house but in winter, the wrens (and if you’re a twitcher wondering why I’m calling them winter wrens instead of Pacific wrens, I know they’ve been reclassified but old habits die hard. And the wrens don’t care what we call them. They know who they are…), anyway (to pull this sentence back into some form of grammatical coherence), the wrens take refuge from the cold inside its small confines. Once I was at my desk at twilight and saw 6 of them enter, all of them coming from different directions. When we see them or hear them on our walks, or hunting our woodpile for insects, we usually see just one. If there are two, they aren’t companions but rivals. That’s what the song is about. Or at least that’s my best guess.

The wren moves through my novella named for it (Winter Wren) the way these birds move through our woods. You see them, you don’t; you hear them, then there is silence.

The sun was beginning to set. Tom slumped in his chair, his eyes filled with the sky. He had watched the sun for more than fifty years, watched weather of every temper over seasons too many to count. Was that a wren? Yes, and another there, just by the path. Like mice, they darted and scurried in the bush. One hopped onto the vertebra and there it was, the long song, loud and true. It looked right at him, eyes bright as glass. He wanted to say something to it but nothing came, his voice wasn’t there. Passage of song, the bright eyes. He felt drool on his chin and tried to wipe it with his wrist but his hands were too cold. Grace called out was he alright and with supreme effort, he waved his arm, Yes, yes.

This morning the wren is hunting. The sky is grey, there’s snow on the ground, and winter is truly approaching. 10 days until the Solstice, the time of year the wren comes into its own. Wren ceremonies are rich and various. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the hunting of the wren takes place on the feast of St. Stephen or Boxing Day. There are also rituals associated with the wren on the day before the Solstice — December 21 — when a wren is hunted and killed to represent the death of the old King or Sun and the birth (or return) of the New. The wren appears in various west coast Indigenous belief systems as a transformer (the old sun, the new?) and an emblem of great strength.

Today I’ll make the white chocolate fruitcakes we love, rich with dried Montmorency cherries, dried mango, Calimyrna figs, and hazelnuts, and I’ll watch for wrens. We have a beautiful piece of glass, made by our friend June Malaka, hanging in our big south-facing window, and the world through it swirls and tilts. Anything could happen. Anything might.



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