"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, May 30, 2010


I was weeding the flower bed,  trying to find and rescue my perennials from the grasses and brambles that once owned that patch of land and that, in this stretch of unseasonable rain, have made a serious bid to reclaim their territory. It was so nice to be outside, the sky more cloud than blue, but  a reprieve from the rain, and air whispering hope.

As always my gardening endeavors were accompanied by an assortment of bird songs. Newly fledged robins seeking reassurance. The tinny whistle of white-crowned sparrows. Sweet finch melodies dripping from their yellow ribbons of flight.

On this day I became aware of the soft click of a junco in distress, like a geiger counter. It was insistent and close. Kneeling in the dirt and weeds, I looked for the source and found it in the butterfly bush no more than three feet away. I know juncos nest on the ground, and it occurred to me that this one might have thought my flower bed was a perfect wild expanse in which to raise a family.

I slowed down, prayed I wouldn't step on, kneel on, hoe over the nest. The clicks continued at about the same rate, although they were in stereo from time to time. The other parent was perched in the hydrangea on my other side. I was only weeding around plants, leaving the spaces between for Walt to till later. As I moved toward one whose name I don't know, but which offered up a sweet white spike of bloom, the clicks got closer together and louder - the geiger counter finding radioactivity and warning me away.

Frozen and moving only my eyes, I searched for what I knew was going to be right there. And there it was, embedded within the foliage next to that flower, the tall blossom standing guard over a tightly woven nest containing three almost-blue eggs.

Speaking softly to the juncos, apologizing for disturbing them, I moved to the other side of the garden, and then eventually to the other side of the yard when they stayed off the nest, still clicking their warnings at me.

I went back a couple of days later, camera in hand, hoping maybe to see babies. Even though I knew exactly where the nest was, it took me a minute to spot it. I was looking for eggs, but what I saw was a parent hunkered so smoothly into the nest she was nearly invisible.

I thought how brave she was. I was close enough that she was in danger of being trapped or worse (if I'd been a predator) and yet she stayed. I took my pictures, backed away carefully, torn between wanting to stay and marvel at this small miracle and knowing I needed to leave it alone.

The chances of those eggs hatching and the babies making it to flight seem so slim. The human threat is erased for this nest, but what about the yearling doe what wanders through our yard regularly. Or my cats who, while mellower with old age, are still hunters. Or the kestrels. Or the sharp-shinned hawk that uses our bird feeder area as a fast food drive-through. So much danger. And yet that nest on the ground is the juncos' place, and they are abundant. There is perfection there, even in the vulnerability and mystery.

The junco's head is the slightly darker spot mid-picture. You can see her eyes and her beak, and the nest surrounding her.


JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Isn't it spectacular when you can feel that you are part of the bird's cycle, even if it just leaving it be? We had chickadees hatch in one of the bird houses hung from the trees in the back yard. We had horrendous winds one night and the house was knocked from the tree. I could hear the birds chirping inside, even though the birdhouse was on its side. I gently put it right side up - listening to make sure that the chirping continued and I didn't cover the baby birds with the nest when moving it. They continued to chirp and I re-hung them in the tree. Four days later they were big enough to fly and have been flitting about the yard with their parents.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

"There is perfection there, even in the vulnerability and mystery."

Love that.

The birds were telling you to stop working and rest. : )

Janna Leadbetter said...

This reminds me of the indigenous killdeer we have. They lay their eggs on the ground, and are so protective and watchful. While you hate to disturb their home, it's a sight to observe the mother's instincts when you draw close. She'll run as far from the nest as she can, and flop and squawk like she's broken her wing, so as to distract you from her babies. You can't help but back away to ease her worry.

Jessica Nelson said...

Wow, that's so cool how the bird got upset and tried to warn you away. Sounds like you had a sweet day in your garden. :-)

Cheryl said...

So love nature and that there are others out there caring for it too.

tricia said...

I can easily relate to this bird. As the momma bird of my little ones, I am committed to sheltering them from dangers of the world until I know they are strong enough to fly alone. =)

kario said...

Every time I look out in my backyard and see the birds doing their thing I think of you. I wish I knew all their names, but just listening to them light up the air this time of year with their chatter is so fun.

Thanks for the reminder that, even in our vulnerability, we must remain focused and determined and there will be helping hands along the way.


Wanda..... said...

We recently had baby Bluebirds and wrens leave the safety of their nesting boxes and just yesterday a hawk perched close to the Forsythia bushes where I knew the wrens were spending time, thought I would take his photo and maybe he would leave. He did and as I was looking in the Forsythia, I almost stepped on a black snake. I imagine the hawk was eyeing the snake instead of the wrens. Nature!


Lorna said...

I think your protective instincts were just as sweet to observe as the junco momma's :) Love this gentle post. Bravery is required in this world! And your feathered residents sure showed us how to BE it.

Gammary said...

I spotted the bird in your picture...I spotted the rhyme in your words...I spotted the life in your punctuation...I spotted grounded living in your imagery.

so nice.


Jerri said...

I like Carrie's idea that the birds were telling you to rest.

Amber said...

Your writing is wonderful! I am there with you.


Mark Lyons said...

I'm glad you gave directions to see the bird. I almost couldn't find it with it's near-perfect camouflage. You're garden is such a peaceful place for you...I'm thankful that you have it as a refuge and that you continue to marvel at God's beauty that resides there. I'm hoping the baby birds make it...and that you have the opportunity to watch them grow.
As always, I love your writing.


Wander to the Wayside said...

So, you do indeed understand my attachment to the birds! Danger everywhere, and beauty. Hard not to become involved or attached!

We have killdear here in Georgia that lay their eggs on the ground, too, usually with rocks.