This morning I opened the back door to hang out some pillowcases and heard robin song. I’ve noticed birds everywhere these days. Yellow-rumped warblers, sapsuckers, chickadees checking out the houses, a high crowd of violet-green swallows above the garden yesterday when we were taking a break from various chores, hummingbirds in the red currant, and of course robins. They’ve been around for ages but I haven’t heard their chorus yet. We did hear Swainson’s thrushes two weeks ago when it was warm enough to have the window open in the very early morning.
The robins have always nested around our house, sometimes in an elbow of grapevine, sometimes in the crotch of a rose by the front door, and often on a beam that carries wisteria across the patio. We’ve watched the couples build their nests, watched them sitting on the eggs, and even watched the young fledge. One year the nest was a little higher than I am—I’m 5’6″—and I kept a sort of diary of the progress of its construction and what happened after. At one point I held a camera over the next when the parents were off in search of worms and this is what I saw:
Only one of those fledged. (And you can see a little dead bird on the left.) A few years ago the robin couple built a nest on the beam and there were eggs, then tiny nestlings (again, the camera held from high so a blurry image):
I was looking forward to watching the whole cycle again but a weasel raced along the beam and that was the end of that story. The parents were briefly distraught and then began a nest somewhere far from the house. I’m sorry not to see the nests so close but on the other hand, we have a cat now who likes to recline on that beam, and I’ve heard the weasel in the night, hunting on the roof, so it’s better than the robins find a safer location.
I sit at my desk, thinking about the way we try to live our lives in the best possible way. We try to raise children who are ethical and purposeful and who can survive outside the nest (though we hope that they will also remember the nest and the parents who fed them tirelessly while they opened their mouths to the sky). We try to do the right thing for the earth, whatever that might be. (I suspect it’s too late but that’s another topic.) And daily, I try to record what I love, what hurts me, what I am puzzled by, or what I hope for.
The days of the dawn chorus are nearly upon us. I have been very lucky, I think, to see robin eggs in a nest, tiny nestlings, those gawky open mouths. I’ve seen a weasel at my door, once, standing up and looking in at me as I sewed in my rocking chair by the fire, and again, on the stoop where I hang out laundry. I think of Annie Dillard’s essay, “Living Like Weasels”, and realize that in some ways we too can live close to our instincts, if we are lucky and the light is right:
We could, you know. We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience–even of silence–by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn’t “attack” anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.
I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.