“If we return to the old home as to a nest…” (Bachelard)

may 7

This is the wisteria over the cedar beam milled from a tree taken down more than a decade ago, replacing a beam that rotted over time. In a few days the wisteria will be fully in bloom, a moment I look forward to every year, and have since we first planted the it, a gift from John’s mum nearly 40 springs ago. She gave us two, which have become many; we have three growing on various places and have rooted strands for others, most recently the lifeguard at the pool where we swim 3 times a week. The wisteria traveled to Canada in John’s mum’s suitcase, rooted from her own mother’s vine in Suffolk. For nearly 40 years I’ve come up our driveway to see the wisteria blooming in May and each time I’ve felt overcome with its beauty. It receives almost no care. It doesn’t want any. John prunes the long strands back to the 4th bud as his mother showed him and that’s it. For 5 or 6 years robins nested at the western edge of the beam where the wisteria meets a New Dawn rose, a little haven under the eaves, until the little haven was discovered by a weasel who raided the nest of its 3 blue eggs, eating them on the laundry stoop and leaving the shells as the robins shrieked from nearby lilacs. I miss the robins but now that we have Winter the cat, it’s best that they nest somewhere else. A few times they nested in the little elbow of the downspout on the printshop. Those were the years we were lucky enough to see the young fly. I wrote about the robins, the nests in the downspout and the wisteria, in my book, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, featured on its publisher’s page today with other books about the natural world:

So now it’s back to the downspout and the mother is one that nest as I write. I loved watching her prepare the nest back in April. There had been one there in the past and I know that sometimes robins simply build on top of an old one but that earlier nest had fallen, a perfect construction of woven twigs and moss, held together with mud, and then lined with grass. The new nest took a few days to build and, at the end, the bird crouched in it and plumped out her body, turning as she did so. This formed a cup to the dimensions of her body. She carried wisps of grass to it and then I think she laid her eggs, one a day for three days.
This time around–it’s early July–she simply reoccupied the nest that she had used in April, bringing a little fresh grass for her new family. If we get too near, she glides out and is back again before we know it. I love to hear her mate singing morning, noon, and night, the long rising and falling notes clear and bright.
Of course by now you will know that I am talking about my own family–three children raised in our homemade house, nurtured and loved, and coaxed easily from the nest with every hope for their long survival. Oh, and their return! “So there is also an alas in this song of tenderness. If we return to the old home as to a nest, it is because memories are dreams, because the home of other days has become a great image of lost intimacy.”*

As I write now, robins are plucking soft lichen from a cascara tree beyond my study window. It does go on, the work of mothers and fathers, nest-building, nurture, and the beautiful opening of the wisteria blossoms on a beam across the patio, both a threshold for those coming to our house and for those leaving.

*This little quoted passage is from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space

2 thoughts on ““If we return to the old home as to a nest…” (Bachelard)”

  1. I always have a twist of wistful longing when I read ‘mum’ as in your blog today instead of the ubiquitous and American-sounding ‘mom’. ‘Mum’ is what I grew up with, probably because of English heritage like your John’s, and the word has always seemed softer and more enveloping to my ear. Anyway, Happy Mum’s Day to you and may you hear from your brood near and far.

    1. My mother, from Halifax via Scotland, was Mum. Thank you for your good wishes, Susan! It’s always a day for think about mothers and their legacy, at least for me, and mine (and our strangely discordant but occasionally harmonious relationship, one I wish I could revisit, to make amends).

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