On the fourth day of rebuilding after tragedy, here’s what the new house finch nest looks like:
In all the years of finches raising broods in my front door wreath, I have never seen a nest lined with such deep layers of fluff and feathers. The little blue eggs to come any morning now (prediction: the first one on Sunday) will be so well-cradled, so tenderly sheltered.
This week I read that birds mourn the loss of their young.
I believe it.
I also believe, looking at this nest, that my house finches are determined not to lose any more.
March 1: Auspices – discovery of an unusually early nest and eggs laid in February (with photo)
March 5: Eavesdropping – audio of the parent finches’ joyous chatter
March 14: Nestlings – likely hatched during a snowfall (with photo)
a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.
I could hardly wait to get home yesterday to check the progress of the new finch nest on my door wreath.
On Day Two, it now has the characteristic cup shape. It’s lined with white fuzz, a soft cushion for the precious eggs to come.
It is comprised almost exclusively of fresh green grass. The color of newness and life.
House finches are said to represent new beginnings.
Their nests always fill me with awe, and never more than now, watching the parents working together to rebuild immediately after two of their babies died in the previous nest, which I tore down. Confession: I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. Nature is mighty, ever-resilient, wise; it is imbued with regenerative power. Yet there are so many delicate balances within it. I didn’t want to upset any of these. I am a mere student of these birds. They are the experts.
So to see this nest being built in the exact spot as the ill-fated former one is a gift. It sends my spirits soaring, exponentially.
House finches are considered symbols of joy. If you ever hear one singing, you understand why.
In some parts of the world, they’re called the blessing bird.
They chose my door years ago as the place to bring new life into the world. I now share the wonder of it with my seven-year-old granddaughter, our “nurture scientist.” Together we have witnessed the miracle of tiny life coming into existence and eventually taking flight. In a couple more seasons, her baby sister will be able to enjoy it, too.
After I took this photo of the new nest, rejoicing and wondering when the first egg will appear, I went into the house to find a mysterious package my husband had retrieved from the mailbox.
Neither of us had ordered anything.
I opened it…
A gift from a friend I met through writing, who reads about my finches each spring, who knows of the recent loss.
I am awed again.
A writing community is like a nest: a safe place especially created for growth, where we nurture one another and encourage each other to stretch our wings and fly.
It is here that we learn the true power of story and how it knits our hearts together. In the beginning, in the end, we are story.
To live it, write it, build it together, is a gift.
And the time for doing it is now. Today.
My love for the finches, like my love for writing, is inextricably woven through and through with gratitude for the blessings in my life. It’s all a song in my heart, greater than words.
Each day brings its own gifts. It’s up to us to see them, accept them, celebrate them.
And to give in return.
Beyond the horizon Lies infinite possibility Eyes cannot see. Sky meeting sea Sea meeting sky… I fly ever onward Nested and rested in the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
Today, there might be an egg.
******** with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the monthlong Slice of Life Story Challenge
On Monday afternoon I came home to check the nest on my front door wreath, expecting that finch fledglings had flown. They are the earliest brood I’ve ever known: four tiny blue eggs laid during the last week of February and hatching by the second week of March; I discovered a pile of fuzzy gray, mohawked nestlings after a snowfall.
By Monday, as the temperatures finally warmed, I hadn’t heard their happy chatter at my door in a day or so. I assumed the babies had left home; it was just over two weeks after hatching, which is normal.
But that afternoon I found two perfectly beautiful fledglings dead in the nest.
First time this has happened in all the years of house finches adopting my porch as their sanctuary. No real clue as to why. Inexperienced parents? Doubtful, as nesting in my wreath is an established pattern and the finches are quite prolific. Disease? Maybe; but where were the other two babies? Sustained freezing temperatures? Possible. Survival of the fittest? Probable.
No sign of the parents. Had something happened to them? Had they abandoned these little ones? If so, why?
I stood before the nest, icy shock quickly melting into grief.
It had to be dealt with…
Armed with paper towels and cloths, I extricated the tiny lifeless babies. I carried them to the edge of the woods out back and covered them, together, in a deep bed of dry leaves. I couldn’t just throw them away; they had been living things. They had been growing. I couldn’t bury them; birds don’t bury their dead and furthermore, they’re creatures of the air.
They never got to fly.
I bid the babies goodbye and told them I was sorry that this was the best I knew to do for them, to let nature reabsorb them.
Then, the nest.
Finches sometimes reuse them.
If I were a mother bird, however, I wouldn’t want to reuse a nest where two of my precious babies had died.
I decided the nest—every one a unique masterpiece, this one threaded with tiny dried flowers and padded with white hair from some mammal—had to go. In case there were mites or germs or traces of decay…
It should be burned, I thought, as I pulled it away from the wreath.
Instead I wrapped it, bagged it, and threw it in the trash.
I almost threw the whole wreath in the trash, too, but just as I took it down, I remembered how, all winter long, two little birds slept in this wreath together at night, keeping each other warm, sometimes startling me by flying out when I opened the door.
No doubt it was the finch parents, staking their claim until nesting season.
I couldn’t throw the wreath away.
I guess…I know… well, just hoping…
I shook out the wreath and hung it back up.
Monday evening, I was forlorn. I read everything I could find online about bird babies dying in nests. I read that bird parents grieve for their lost ones. I peeked out of the front blinds; I am sure I saw a little shadowy figure on the porch railing, just as it saw me and darted away, without a sound.
I didn’t sleep well.
Tuesday morning, as I got dressed for work, the silence was depressing. This is the time I’d hear them most, the parents with their song-chatter, the chorusing baby voices…
So I went outside with my Merlin Bird Sound ID app. It picked up robins, a mockingbird, a Carolina wren, a chipping sparrow, a mourning dove…no house finches.
I drove to work heavy-hearted, knowing that there are countless other birds for the savoring and that in the human world incomparable horrors are steadily unfolding…yet that’s why the finches matter. One bit of joy that softens the edges of the blade. A little song of light against a devouring darkness. A tiny comfort on the wing, a fleeting moment of transcendence…
Tuesday afternoon I came home and checked the wreath.
I don’t know what I expected. I don’t even know if this is wise or healthy (when is a thing officially an obsession?).
It didn’t look any different. I thought I saw one shred of green grass hung in the grapevine where the nest used to be…probably a remnant.
I tried Merlin Bird Sound ID again. —Crows! You are SO. LOUD. Chickadee, cardinal, dark-eyed junco…blue-gray gnatcatcher? Chipping sparrow, osprey. —Osprey! Several of them, impossibly high overhead, calling in their wild, echoing sea-song bursts.
But even in my awe…no finches.
As I turned to leave the driveway a bird sailed right past my head to land in the crape myrtle.
I couldn’t believe it: Papa Finch! Speckled brown, gorgeous red head…I’d know him anywhere.
Then another swoop over the fence to the backyard, not so far from where I laid the babies to rest…is that Mama Finch? Am I making this up? The power of suggestion, or wishful thinking? Writer’s imagination?
I came back into the house to watch a while through the beveled glass of the front door… clandestine operations…
It wasn’t long before he appeared on the garage roof top.
With something trailing from his beak.
‘THEY ARE REBUILDING!” I cried aloud to no one, before I remembered to be clandestine.
Sure enough, Mama Finch soon joined him… appears they have a personal stash of building materials on top of my garage, for they took turns swooping to the front door.
Making a new nest, in a big hurry.
If you have time, watch the short video; it is the first footage I’ve ever obtained of the house finch parents. I’ve never even been able to get a photo. But here’s Papa holding wisps of nesting material while Mama sets hers in place; she returns, and he goes to add his layer.
In the exact same spot as the nest I removed the day before, with the lost babies.
This is what they accomplished in one afternoon:
Look at those soft white pieces procured by Papa.
They’re not done, of course, but are working feverishly in tandem; I suspect Mama is ready to lay more eggs…
If I know my finches, they’ll start hatching right around Easter.
And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new —Revelation 21:5.
For the first time, I rejoice at tearing the old nest down. I marvel at the fortitude of these little birds, prevailing today over yesterday’s loss, pressing on with urgency. They have a contribution to make to the world. This is not the first time, nor surely the last, that I am awed by the resilience and regenerative power of nature. It’s all doing exactly what it is meant to do…with hope and healing for the taking.
Courage, dear hearts.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge
with thanks to fellow Slicer-poet Denise Krebs, who, upon realizing my Slice of Life Story Challenge posts have followed an abecedarian pattern, asked: “Will you do a post about the titles? Perhaps make an abecederian poem using the titles?”
I hadn’t thought of that. Is it possible? Would it even be worth reading?
As I have come to the end of the alphabet with five more posts to write and no plan… why not?
Auspices are favorable for my
barefoot baby ballerina on her toes, at present so like
crows, the absolute embodiment of Thought and Memory. It shows, in throes of
doggerel she tries to recite from her baby books, before she even knows words.
Eavesdropping at nap time, I hear her singing her own invented lullabies.
Focus on saving details of her story, I tell myself. Like the way she calls “Good boy” to the
graze academy of cows pastured behind the manse, and how proud she is of
herself in her little pink coat that shall NOT be removed, nay, all the livelong day.
I remember these from my own early story, memories flitting like tiny gray-cloaked
juncos in ancient winter grass:
koala life lessons from a book my grandmother read to me, in verse;
love notes in the cadence of her voice, ethereal rhythms falling on me like gentle
March snow. There was a book of birds tending their
nestlings as lovingly as Grandma tended me, slathering me in an
ode to menthol (Vick’s VapoRub) when I couldn’t breathe. I am well-wrapped in legacy.
Pursuing knowledge came early: Why is Granddaddy’s middle name St. Patrick?
Quotable Patrick, aka Granddaddy, with a sigh: I got no ideer. And he changed it—!
Remember these days, I say. Write now; who knows what the future holds? A long
sleep experiment poem unfolds. And so each day I am about
taking stock: my pile of good things grows to wealth untold. I play with words like
unfare while my mind time-travels to and fro, a
vagabond in search of a keeping-place, forever digging under the
wall on the writing. Oh, my baby ballerina and big sister nurture scientist/Jeopardy
X-ray expert/backseat prophet, someday you’ll each know how Franna prayed for
your one wild and precious life, filled to running over with awe and
zest—the whole A to Z gamut of my existence.
❤ My granddaughters ❤
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the monthlong Slice of Life Story Challenge
and several fellow Slicers who made requests for particular postsalong the way
— now: What to write tomorrow?
Ah, but story is in the making every precious moment that we live.
an agreeable or piquant flavor imparted to something.
anything added to impart flavor, enhance one’s appreciation, etc.
piquancy; interest; charm.
liveliness or energy; animating spirit.
the peel, especially the thin outer peel, of a citrus fruit used for flavoring: lemon zest.
I’ve been thinking about “zest” recently.
Truth be told: I needed a “z” word anyway for my post title today, as this is the 26th day of the March Slice of Life Story Challenge and I secretly decided to stick with the abecedarian approach that worked for me last year. “Ta-daaa,” as my sixteen-month-old granddaughter would say.
But there’s also the fact that I haven’t felt much zest for anything of late, having battled viral congestion for the last four weeks, in the midst of this already extremely challenge-riddled school year. One really cannot have zest for sleep, right? It’s an oxymoron. I did crave citrus, however, for one zest-ish connection. Last week I stocked up on clementines and three kinds of juice; nothing has been more restorative than drinking giant glasses of pure o.j. on ice throughout the day. Clearly I needed the vitamin C, for I am almost well now. That plus time…
It just so happens that I’ve been reading about zest being part of necessary human strengths as defined by positive psychology, which focuses on eudaimonia, Greek for “good spirit.” Turns out that zest, or enthusiasm, is linked to courage and other traits necessary for individual happiness, satisfaction, mental health, and living life well. It’s a relatively new and accordingly controversial domain of psychology… yet I hear a ring of truth in it.
Maybe I should say I can taste the truth in it.
Consider these phrases from the Dictionary.com definition of zest: keen relish, hearty enjoyment, gusto; anything added to enhance one’s appreciation; piquancy, interest, charm; liveliness or energy; animating spirit...
In short, a person must have positive experiences to look forward to (akin to hope) that bring true enjoyment. The very knowledge is energizing; so is the savoring of the experiences. In its own way, zest is the antidote to the inertia of despair. If we are zest-deficient, what can we do about it? It’s different for different folks…does it mean finding a new job or career, or being an agent of change where you are? Does it mean taking up skydiving, parasailing, horseback riding, or volunteering in a place where people are suffering? Is zest in itself an end goal, or does it forge a path to a different kind of fulfillment tied to purpose and value?
All food for thought. In the end, zest is a motivator for something intrinsically rewarding. There are people with a zest for cooking, gardening, sports, hiking, biking, singing, building, redecorating… the greatest connective tissue I see is energy. These are physical activities.
I think about writing. I love it. I work at it. I set a goal to write a meaningful post every day last year and I accomplished it. Yet I cannot say zest was often or even occasionally involved…which brings me to ask myself: Where is there zest in my life? Once upon a time, people might have jokingly mentioned the soap; remember the slogan “You’re not fully clean until you’re Zestfully clean”?
As soon as I ask, an image begins forming in my mind…
A birthday party a few years ago, with extended family. The guest of honor, turning sweet sixteen. Dark eyes sparkling, cheeks rosy from all the attention on this special day. She loves acting, her grandmother informed me. Wants to perform onstage.
She could have been me, years ago. I relished performing in plays at her age…I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. Zest!
It is not what happened for me, but as cake and ice cream was served, immense gratitude for the life and family I have flooded my soul.
Zest, by the way, is also linked to gratitude; a savoring, as I mentioned.
I took my plate of cake and ice cream, which I expected to be vanilla, but—oh!
“Is this lemon ice cream?” I asked. I knew it was. Unexpected and amazing. Not tart. Just sweet silken cream, with a breath of light lemon fragrance…
“Yes,” came the answer. “It’s homemade.”
I had to have the recipe. I thought immediately of two people for whom I wanted to make it: my daughter-in-law and my sister-in-law. They love lemon. I like it, say, in old-fashioned (real) lemonade, in my ice water, in pound cake…not so much in meringue pies. This ice cream, though, was divine.
And so I’ve made it several times since, usually as a topping for blueberry cobbler straight from the oven. Last time I made it was at the beach. My sister-in-law arranges for our families to vacation there each summer. She started doing this after her brother, my husband, had a massive heart attack and was almost taken from us. And so we celebrate togetherness and the good life (another translation of eudaimonia). I sat at the big wooden table in the upper room of the beach house while my nephew-in-law cooked dinner. Everyone was laughing and talking, we were hungry from having been in the sun all day, the ocean sparkled like diamonds beyond the windows, and there was a faint taste of salt on my lips as I grated the lemon rinds to make this ice cream.
Zest. For my family.
My sister-in-law took one spoonful and said, “That’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life.”
It’s also the simplest…as the best things in life are.
No machines, needed, just a bit of work and a willing spirit, ready to share.
Of course this post would not be complete without the recipe…
A bit of zest for your day, friends, on the wings of wellness.
Lemon Ice Cream
1 pint whipping cream 1 cup sugar 2 tablespoons lemon zest 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
Combine whipping cream and sugar; stir until sugar dissolves
Here’s a story about my oldest granddaughter, then age five, told to me by her parents (also known as my son and daughter-in-law).
One night while watching the game show Jeopardy! an answer came up about a substance to be swallowed before a certain kind of X-ray.
Our then-kindergartener instantaneously responded: “What is barium?”
Which is correct.
“How do you know that?” asked the astonished parents.
“It’s in Franna’s Curious George book,” said my granddaughter.
And so it is. I’ve read it to her countless times.
George being prepped for an X-ray after swallowing a puzzle piece in Curious George Goes to the Hospital, Margret and H.A. Rey, 1966.
She never tires of this book and asks me to read it to her even now when, at age seven, she can read anything she wants on her own. My son once found one of his theology books in her bed.
I recall that that one of the greatest Jeopardy! champs of all time, James Holzhauer, said that he prepared for the show by reading children’s books in the library: “I don’t know why more people don’t do it.”
My little X-ray expert’s future looks so promising.
Lord, let me be here to see it.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the monthlong Slice of Life Story Challenge
On the last day of Ethical ELA’s Open Write, host Denise Hill offered this invitation:
“Take a metaphor or idiom and reverse it or twist it up in any which way you choose – mumbo jumbo jam it!
Then write from the ‘sense’ the new phrase makes. It may be total nonsense. That’s perfectly fine! It may provide a ‘feeling’ or strike a memory chord or a fantasy chord with you in some way that inspires your poem today. Just go with it!”
Here is what came of my scrambling the writing on the wall…
The Wall on the Writing
In prehistory cave-dwellers dipped their fingers into animal fat charcoal their own earwax
then dirt and ash
to paint their stories on the walls by flickering torchlight
over time many caves collapsed
to be reabsorbed by the earth
In the course of human migration the region of the caves became a fortified city with iron gates and great stone walls
one of which was constructed over the buried caves
It is said that at this wall the great orators gave their mighty speeches humble petitioners made their prayers poets composed their epics chroniclers penned histories and storytellers found their words
I do not know if the wall or the legends are real
but I do know that when I hit a writing block that I cannot go over around or through if I dig deep deeper deeper still within
I will find the words
just human DNA finding its way with story waiting deep deeper deeper still beneath the wall on the writing