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”


day of the wren

December 26th, day of the wren:

The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.
His body is little but his family is great
So rise up landlady and give us a trate.
And if your trate be of the best
Your soul in heaven can find its rest.
And if your trate be of the small
It won’t plaze the boys at all.
A glass of whiskey and a bottle of beer
Merry Christmas and a glad New Year.
So up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wran.

Wrens have a special place in my heart. All winter, a tiny one hunts just outside my study window first thing in the morning, hopping along the railing of the little porch there and then darting in and out of the rush birdhouse hanging under the eaves. It’s looking for spiders and other food, I know, but I think of it as a muse. A few years ago I sat at my desk most mornings, working on a novella I called Winter Wren, set on the west coast of Vancouver Island; its structure explores the lore associated with the hedge king, the king of all birds. I re-read Sir James Frazier’s The Golden Bough which I’d first encountered as an undergraduate in the last century. Its detailed descriptions and contextualizations of the rituals of life, death, and rebirth, and the variant myths in every culture fascinated me as much the second time around.

So imagine my pleasure yesterday morning when I opened this gift from my daughter Angelica:

P1110013And from Forrest and Manon, in Ottawa, came this beautiful little Anishinabe basket, bought when Forrest visited Manitoulin Island in the summer:

P1110010It’s birch bark with sweetgrass woven around the rim and base and the decoration is dyed porcupine quills. (The flower on the lid looks like blue flax to me.)

From John, silver earrings as delicate as spider webs, a wonderful new atlas (he said, “You spend such a lot of time looking at the old one and so much of it isn’t accurate any more!”), and an android tablet which has me kind of nervous — I’m not good at learning new things — but also relieved to know that I can load up library books on it to take on travels. One of my greatest fears is running out books to read when we’re away from home and as we like to travel light, filling my suitcase with books instead of clothes doesn’t make sense. It took me awhile to acknowledge that an e-reader might just be a good idea so check in again, in March, when I’m in Portugal and I’ll report how it’s going…

And tomorrow, another gift: the arrival of Brendan, Cristen, and grandbaby Kelly. It will be Kelly’s first visit to her paternal grandparents and we are so happy they’re coming.