In honor of the five baby house finches in the nest on my front door wreath, for Day Twenty-Eight of National Poetry Month
little wizened face
ancient wisdom in your eyes
yet you are so new
In honor of the five baby house finches in the nest on my front door wreath, for Day Twenty-Eight of National Poetry Month
little wizened face
ancient wisdom in your eyes
yet you are so new
One of my favorite things about spring is the return of the house finches, which build a nest and raise a little family on my front door wreath.
I am treated to a bird’s eye view of tiny life coming into the world.
As some of you know from previous posts, the finches built the nest last year but never laid any eggs. It was haunting, coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 shutdown. Barrenness. Emptiness. Loss.
They are making up for it this year.
Mama Finch laid five eggs during Holy Week; usually there are only three or four.
They’ve all hatched now and more pictures will be forthcoming, but here are the first two babies.
For the record, the collective noun for finches is a charm or a trembling.
A trembling charm of tiny new life upon my house:
For Day Twenty of National Poetry Month, a haiku:
Nature has her charms
Gifts of fragile new songbirds
A Golden Shovel poem in honor of the finches nesting on my front door, the miracle of new life, and faith. Reshared as a stand-alone from my April 1st Spiritual Journey post, in recognition of National Poetry Month. A Holy Week celebratory hymn based on the words of Christ: Behold, I am making all things new (Revelation 21:5, ESV).
I come to the sanctuary in the cool of the day to behold
these moments of Earth’s remembering, an altar call where I
respond, walking the greening aisle just as I am
to a fanfare of wingbeats and music-making.
Holy holy holy, I surrender all
in wordless doxology on the returning. Let all things
their Creator bless, with ancient morningsong, yet ever new.
shared for Poetry Friday, with thanks to Mary Lee for hosting the Roundup
Today I lift a line from Emily Dickinson.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
My finches, every spring—
On my wreath their nest awaits
New life they always bring—
This year —more than ever—
I watch for their return—
Yet the nest is empty
Of that for which I yearn—
I wonder what is keeping them
And if my charm is gone—
Do the finches know somehow
Life must keep moving on—
Come home, little finches—
Come home— if you will—
Hope is the thing with feathers
Where I’m abiding—still.
Note: “Charm” is the group name for finches.
I was expecting to find a hatched baby finch on Sunday.
Instead, I found two!
I can really only tell it’s two because one egg of three is still there. Although I can kind of discern two different necks, one baby lying over the other.
I knew the eggs were due to hatch around Sunday, and all last week I wondered what the mother bird was experiencing. To begin with, she built—rebuilt, actually—her nest on top of the wreath on my front door, which means that any time we walk down the hallway or open any other doors in the house, she feels those vibrations. Is that a good thing, somehow? Is that a reason why finches like to build so close to humans, to feel those larger rhythms of life, perhaps trusting them to be benevolent and protective forces?
And I wondered—being a mom—if she could feel stirrings inside the eggs beneath her as she diligently kept them warm on these still-frosty nights and mornings. Eggshells are only so thick . . . Can she feel those tiny hearts beating under her, long before her chicks begin pecking their way out into the world?
So many good vibrations . . . .
Reminds me of the story behind the famous song. When he was young, Brian Wilson’s mother told him that dogs will bark at people who give off “bad vibrations.”
Inspired, Brian eventually composed the Beach Boys iconic masterpiece Good Vibrations.
Which leads me back to the naming of these three babies (in a previous post: Tiny trio). Finches are singers, and my son is a Beach Boys aficionado, so . . . .
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Brian and Dennis (the latter of which was apparently revved up and decided to hatch early—how fitting).
Their brother Carl is due to arrive tomorrow.
Little bird up in a tree
Looked down and sang a song to me.
—”Little Bird,” Dennis Wilson, Stephen Kalinich, Brian Wilson
The house finch nesting in the wreath on our front door is incubating three lovely blue eggs.
My son (Cadillac Man) and I are walking, doing laps in the churchyard on a sunny afternoon, talking about names for baby birds (see what happens when new life generates in your realm; if you’re human, you take nonsensical ownership).
“It’s too obvious, but I almost can’t resist calling them Atticus, Jem, and Scout,” I chuckle. “I mean, they’re FINCHES.”
“Yeah, you’re right—it’s too obvious,” says Cadillac Man.
I think I hear a small sigh.
“Hmm. Well, there’s Harry, Hermione, and Ron . . . ” I offer.
Cadillac Man’s face remains immobile. I can’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses. He says nothing.
I can see that literary names are a no go, which is a shame, with “the rule of three” and all that. Cadillac Man does not think from a repository of words and phrases gleaned over time from books like I do. He thinks in music. He always has.
We walk a little way in silence; we’re keeping a pretty good pace. Then Cadillac Man proceeds to tell me new things he’s learning in his continuous (borderline obsessive) research on his musical passion, the Beach Boys: “Dennis didn’t get credit for how much musical talent he really had . . . .”
—I have an inspiration. Cadillac Man will love this. When he pauses, I say:
“We can name the baby birds after the Wilsons. Since’s there’s three of them.”
He grins. “Well, these little birds are singers.”
Brian is due to hatch next Sunday. Dennis and Carl should follow on Monday and Tuesday.
Even if they’re female, it will be fun, fun, fun . . . .
Last summer, a pair of finches made a nest on the wreath on my front door. I watched their family develop, day by day: Four eggs, four baby birds, four fledglings taught how to fly by their parents, and then they were gone.
I suffered empty nest syndrome. Literally.
I took wreath down for the winter and saved the little nest, because I didn’t have the heart to destroy a thing so beautifully made by tiny creatures that don’t have hands.
A Christmas wreath hung on the door until I finally got around to removing it in late January (well, it was festive; it brightened the winter-bleak days).
And I re-hung the “finch wreath,” which is clearly for springtime, but . . . I confess . . . I was hoping . . . .
And along mid-February—might it have been Valentine’s Day? Really?—I heard them.
The tell-tale cheerful chirps, the sweetest bird music, right outside my door.
My heart sang, too: You’re back, you’re back! Welcome home!
They built a new nest and then . . . nothing.
For weeks, nothing.
I began to worry, which makes no sense, because these tiny birds are much more adept at survival than I am. My worry was mostly selfish, I realized. I wanted the birds here, didn’t want them to change their minds, find another place. I wanted to hear their happy voices every morning, wanted the joy they unknowingly impart, wanted to see new life happen again.
Every day, I checked. The perfect little nest was barren. No finches in sight or within hearing.
The temperatures dropped below freezing again. Just as I began to fear that some fate had befallen my finch friends, I wondered: Is it possible that they knew another freeze was coming? That they built the nest as planned, right on schedule, but that they can hold off laying eggs until the cold spell passes? Can that happen?
Then, early yesterday morning, a chorus of chirpy cheer outside my door!
I had to go see . . .
—I have an egg!
Today at the exact same time will be another egg, tomorrow, maybe another, and soon I’ll know how big my little finch family will be.
But for now I just reflect, with reverential awe, on how the first egg came with the first bit of welcome warmth on the first day of the week.
My birds are back home, safe in their sanctuary, on Sunday morning.
And I sing for joy.
After being away on vacation all last week, my first order of business on returning home was to check on the four baby house finches that hatched in the wreath on my front door. I’d been chronicling their development daily, so I knew many changes would occur in my absence.
Here is what I discovered:
1) The babies are now well-feathered; their skin-head mohawks have become mere wisps upon their downy crowns.
2) Two of the babies can fly. They sailed out of the nest this morning as I approached. The other two stayed put, their bright little eyes regarding me with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.
3) Their nest is one spectacular conglomeration of droppings.
To be fair, the droppings are only around the rim; the mother collects them there. What a job, building a wall of excrement. Worse than diapers. When I first wrote of the perfect, flower-graced nest, the pale blue eggs, the hatching of the tiny pink nestlings, I concentrated on the beauty and wonder of life. I pointed out that the collective noun for a group of finches is a charm.
And charmed I was.
There is nothing charming about that nest now.
The fledglings themselves, of course, are enchanting. They’ll soon be gone, the circle of life will go on, and all that will remain of these magical moments is a monumental mess.
But that’s the story of life. It’s messy. It can’t be comprised solely of breathtaking beauty and newness; if it were, we could not recognize these moments for what they are. They’d lose their value. Only when contrasted with ugliness, hardships, and pain can we see and cherish the beautiful when it comes. We inevitably deal with messes, some that occur naturally, some created by others, some of our own making. Therein lie all the stories . . .
Which makes me think of writing. This nest is a tangible (although I do not wish to touch it) reminder of these commonalities:
-Life is messy.
-Writing is messy.
-Thinking is messy.
-Teaching is messy.
To do any of these well, we have to be willing to accept and even embrace the messiness. We must certainly persevere through it to arrive at the beautiful. It takes courage, stamina, and a lot of hard work, to write well, to think well, to teach well, to live well.
The strength to do so, I believe, lies in believing that the beautiful will come. It’s all a matter of trust, of faith. And pressing on.
Although I was appalled by the quantity of accumulated—um, bird-doo—around the nest, I was also amazed that two of my four little finches could fly. Last night they couldn’t; today they can. Tomorrow the others might.
This is a message to me about readiness.
Everyone arrives as a writer, a thinker, a teacher, a good practitioner of life, in their own time. Lots of messes will be made along the way. Sorting this out is what grows us. One by one, as children, as adults, as long as we live, we are continually growing the necessary wings to fly beyond where we are. And it’s truly a collective, collaborative growth; we are to nudge each other when needed, but not too hard, too soon. We’re not to hold back, to hold one another back, simply because we cannot see all that lies ahead and for fear of navigating the unknown. Knowledge comes by trying. By experiencing. By taking risks. There’s an implicit difference between throwing caution to the wind and taking a leap of faith, that being potential self-destruction versus healthy maturation. These finches know. As the day wears on, I watch the two fledglings that can fly going back and forth from the eaves to the nest, coaching their other two siblings on how to do it. See see see, I hear them cheeping. A bit at a time, a bit at a time. At any moment, those last two are going to get up on that nasty, messy rim and let go.
In more ways than one . . . .
So you make a mess. So what? So you’re alive and growing.
Tomorrow you stretch your newest feathers and find you can move on.
To where the beautiful awaits.
The door to my home is now charmed.
By a family of finches.
I’ve been researching house finches since a pair of them persevered in rebuilding a nest on the wreath adorning my front door, where the mother laid four tiny blue eggs (see last week’s post, Sanctuary). I discovered in my reading that the word for a group of finches is a charm.
A word of delight, enchantment, magic . . . very much what I feel as I step into my bird sanctuary to check on the babies. The last egg hatched early this morning. The mother removed the eggshells after each hatching so now there’s just four pink things with tufts of gray-white feathers huddling close to one another, so tiny that they’d all fit easily in the palm of my hand with room to spare.
I think: They’re so fragile. Yet so hardy.
A paradox describing life itself.
With every glimpse of the hatchlings I am filled with the glory of being alive. That they are alive, changing every single moment. That I am alive to see them. My door is their sanctuary; they are my miracle. That this is the ordinary course of things does not make it any less so; we will never have a sense of the miraculous if we cease to look for it.
I wonder what the babies will think of me, this formidable being who briefly appears and disappears by the rim of their dwelling. I do not want them to be afraid. I can offer my bird family nothing but the safety and shelter of my porch roof, but, truth is, the mother and father chose the place and it had nothing to do with me. The mother flies to a nearby pine when she sees me coming, so I limit my visits to once a day for a few seconds. I get my fix of awe and get out of the way.
Honoring the life that came into my sphere.
There are so many directions I might take this post, as a mother, as a teacher, as a literacy coach, as a writer. I will let it rest on the level of human being: Honor the lives that come your way. How you do so is the shape and artistry of your own life. It is what we’re meant to do, every bit as much as the mother finch was meant to design her beautiful, dandelion-laced nest for the lives it now holds.
I am grateful for my tiny charm of finches, profoundly grateful for life itself.
Charmed, indeed, in so many ways.
Incidentally, charm comes from the Latin carmen, meaning “song” and “verse.” The babies are silent right now but in a few days they’ll be peeping, eventually singing. Finches are songbirds. All in all, I cannot think of a better word to collectively describe these little creatures.
Although I intentionally didn’t mention before that the other word for a group of finches is a trembling.
Again so perfect.
Not for describing the finches, however. For describing me as I stand in the quiet of my porch sanctuary viewing the new pink life, holding my breath, a wordless song swelling in my heart, trembling at the minuteness and magnitude of it all.
Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess
They all went together to seek a bird’s nest.
They found a bird’s nest with five eggs in,
They all took one and left four in.
It’s the summer of birds.
They became a recurring motif in my summer writing workshop. 2018 is actually The Year of the Bird, marking the 100th anniversary of major bird protection laws. I’ve discovered that I’ve written enough bird stories to give them their own category for this blog. I am reading a stunning, lyrical book recently recommended to me, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice. I recalled the friendly little parrot I saw at a store a while back, and thought—for maybe seven seconds—about how nice it would be to have another pet bird.
And so they came. As if summoned.
House finches, they are. A pair built a nest in my lantern porch light fixture. I would not let my family turn on that light at night for fear of burning the birds. A brood hatched, grew quickly, and was gone; here’s a fledgling tarrying behind on the last day:
Once the nest was empty, our younger son, Cadillac Man, removed it and my husband had the house power washed (a thing well past due).
A day later, I heard a commotion on the front porch.
Birds. Very loud ones.
The front window blinds were up; I could see a male finch, a soft dusting of red on his breast, hopping to and fro along the white railing like an Olympic gymnast on a balance beam (forgive the mixing of genders here but that is what he looked like). He paused to stare right back at me. A speckled brown female flew to him, then instantly away again. Two or three more finches skittered nearby. The collective chatter seemed highly agitated—consternation is the word that came to mind.
It’s the nest, I thought. They’ve come back and it’s gone.
They had to be the same mother and father. I wondered if the others were part of their newly-grown brood. Or a support group. Some sort of council? They seemed to be consulting over the vanished nest. Maybe problem-solving? Collaborating? Making decisions?
For two days, the lively bird debate continued.
Then it died down.
And a piece of pine straw appeared in the bottom of the lantern.
From the window I saw both male and female bringing more pieces, saw the male drop his on the porch floor, fly down to retrieve it, and hover like a hummingbird to work it into place.
My older son, The Historian, passing through the hallway, stopped beside me to watch: “It’s amazing how they know to do this.”
“What’s going on?” his father called from the living room.
“The birds are building another nest in the porch light,” I told him.
“Oh, no they’re not,” he said. “We just had the house washed. The porch was disgusting.”
He went to the kitchen, rummaged in a drawer. He went to the porch, pulled out the three pieces of pine straw.
And put aluminum foil in the lantern:
It sent the finches into a frenzy. For another day, the loud bird-chatter resumed. I found a bit of foil on the porch floor; had one of them tried to tug the stuff loose?
And I worried about the birds cutting themselves on the aluminum, about time elapsing when they clearly needed their nest. The female must be getting ready to lay more eggs, or why all this fuss?
What would they do?
The next day when I opened the front door to go get the mail, I heard a rush of wings and I knew.
The wreath on the door.
Sure enough, on the top of the wreath lay a few long grasses.
I chose to keep this a secret for several days, until:
“All right, you guys,” I announced to my menfolk, “we now have a nest on our wreath with an egg in it. No opening the front door until these birds are gone.”
I may have also mentioned, nonchalantly, that it is illegal in the United States to remove a nest containing eggs.
And then I worried even more: Is the wreath secure enough? How many more eggs will there be? Will they—will the babies—be safe?
The nest made me want to cry. At the perfection of it, at the dried dandelions laced through it like deliberate decoration, an artist’s touch. I wanted to cry at the determination of these birds to live on my porch, how they persevered in rebuilding their home from scratch. They do not know that they built on the door of my home as well as on my heart, where there’s an especially tender spot these days for little creatures and their well-being. I still mourn a small dog, grown old and frail, that I could not save. A rawness in my soul that has yet to grow new skin.
While these birds do not really need me, they spark a sense of ownership and protection. They’re in my realm now, in my sphere of influence.
All I can give them is sanctuary.
I remember how, when I was a child riding in the backseat of a car watching the cityscape give way to fields and forests, a little green sign appeared:
I puzzled over this: Where’s the bird church?
It took some time to understand that birds can’t be hunted here, that sanctuary means safe place.
A place to be, grow, flourish, and fly. Something every living thing needs.
Sanctuary was the word I chose to describe the writing workshop just a month ago. The workshop that had the bird motif running through it. A safe place to think, explore, write, share.
So now, every morning, when the sun is new, when shadows are sharp on the ground, while the dew is still sparkling on the grass, I walk from the garage door to visit the sanctuary. Mama Finch sees me coming as soon as I round the corner; she flies out of the nest, bobbing through the air without a sound. There’s a reverent silence, a holy hush, in sanctuaries, you know. She waits on the rooftop while I quickly admire her handiwork. I go before she’s troubled. I’ve learned from these visits that she lays her eggs between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m.
As soon as my husband and I returned from a trip to the beach, he asked: “Have you checked on your eggs?”
“Yes,” I said, smiling at his words. My eggs.
I have four.
Stay tuned for the hatching announcement.
While writing this post I could not help thinking how “sanctuary” applies to teaching and instructional coaching. As with the house finches—which are symbolic of joy, happiness, optimism, variety, diversity, high energy, creativity, celebration, honoring resources, and enjoying the journey—a safe place to be, grow, flourish, and fly comes through concentrated, collaborative effort. Right now my finches are singing. A song, perhaps, that all of humanity still needs to hear.