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 ever 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
One of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandmother’s lap while she read to me. I recall several of those old books, a favorite being the story of a koala.
I don’t know what happened to the original book, but a few years ago I found a vintage copy online and ordered it.
First of all, check out the 1968 price: 49¢. And secondly…yeah, koalas aren’t bears. Many a year passed before I realized this.
I loved Kobo the koala who sings to himself in rhyme and the story of what happens when he grows tired of living in trees, eating only “leaves for breakfast and leaves for dinner. It’s a wonder to me I’m not getting thinner.”
Kobo decides he will find a new home. Off he saunters (the vocabulary is so rich) for quite an adventure.
He encounters a platypus, another animal I loved at first sight. Kobo meets a number of other creatures: a kangaroo, a kookaburra, and Dingo, the wild dog who chases him back to his tree. Kobo learns in the end that his tree is exactly what he needs; he would not be happy living like the other creatures or having to eat what they do.
This is where Kobo belongs.
So all my life I’ve known where koalas live and what they need to eat…here is what I’ve learned about them in recent years:
They have fingerprints like humans.
They are the only living (extant) member the family Phascolarctidae.
Koala comes from indigenous language meaning “no-drink” or “no-water,” for these animals don’t drink much due to their exclusive eucalyptus-leaf diet. To see one drinking water isn’t a good sign.
In the times of drought and fires destroying their habitat, koalas have approached humans, begging for water.
Koala numbers are in decline due to deforestation, brushfires, vehicles, and yes…dogs.
In some parts of their eastern Australia home koalas are considered endangered.
I can’t help thinking how Kobo’s story would be so different, written today…he couldn’t return home if home is gone.
Of course koalas aren’t alone in this. I see it here on the other side of the world, with more and more land being cleared for neighborhoods. Not so long ago a white-spotted fawn came running through the yard to crash into my house, hard enough to dent the siding and leave a little patch of blood, before pivoting on its gangly legs and streaking back across the lawn to the woods. I never knew what became of it or its mother.
Then there are trees themselves, living things that actually communicate and work together to survive, until they are gone.
And then there are people. Refugees. Borders. Wars. One cannot go home when home is gone…
And children, so needing that sense of belonging…for our childhoods follow us all of our lives.
I suppose that was what was in my mind when I saw the stuffed koala at the store the other day and bought it to keep at my house for my granddaughters to play with when they come. Memories of my own grandmother. The books. The love. The sense of being wanted, valued, sheltered.
Micah, sixteen months old, immediately noticed it sitting atop the toybox in the living room on her next visit. Her face lit up. She toddled over to the koala, picked it up, and hugged it close. “Baby,” she said. “Baby.”
She is a baby herself.
But she already knows something about caring.
Kobo himself might say it’s the beginning of finding the way home, before too much is lost.
Under the eaves a porch on the porch a chosen door
a porch sanctuary a chosen door from the other side, I hear
sanctuary: father finch feeding nesting mother from the other side, I hear a song of love
father finch feeding nesting mother on the porch a song of love under the eaves
Short clip of my house finches, which return every spring to nest in my door wreath (the finches don’t know that I purposely put out the twiggy grapevine wreaths they like best). Crank the volume to hear their beautiful voices. You might even catch a glimpse of wings as the father flies off to fetch more food for the mother. He will feed her until their little blue eggs hatch and then they’ll both feed their babies. In listening, it’s easy to understand how “charm” became the collective noun for finches and why they are said to symbolize joy.
“Adaptable, colorful, and cheery-voiced, House Finches are common from coast to coast today, familiar visitors to backyard feeders. Native to the Southwest, they are recent arrivals in the East. New York pet shop owners, who had been selling the finches illegally, released their birds in 1940 to escape prosecution; the finches survived, and began to colonize the New York suburbs. By 50 years later they had advanced halfway across the continent, meeting their western kin on the Great Plains.”
Winter morning, below freezing, ground covered with thick layer of frost like unto snow. Oyster-gray sky streaked with clouds aflame with sunrise. Breathtaking colors. I drive to work, looking for magisterial hawks perched on power lines. None to be seen. At the corner where the patch of woods has been cleared, old tobacco barns are melting into the stubble, overlaid with a thin veneer of crystal. So beautiful, I say aloud. Something pure remains in the devastation. I cannot think of what. I drive on, pondering destruction and human hunger for it.
In the new rose-light little birds skitter up from the wood-edged fields. What type of birds they are, I cannot determine, just upward movement and wings. A strange line plays in my head: This day your life will be required of you. I suppose it’s born of constant murder in the news and too much reading, this very morning the strange coincidence of Diana, Princess of Wales, attending the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash. Did the struggling Diana sense any foreshadowing?
Why am I even thinking of these things during such a glorious dawn?
A shape swoops from the right, directly in the path of my car…surely a bird. I hear no thunk. I see no skittering escape in my rearview mirror.
The bird—if in fact it was—must be caught in the grille of my car. This happened once, long ago, when I was driving a different vehicle: I discovered a dead cardinal hanging partway under the car. Why, why do they fly so low?
I will have to stop and check. There’s nowhere to pull over on these winding backroads frequented by too-fast drivers and farm equipment.
There’s a tiny church tucked in the woods up ahead, past the intersection. Steep driveway, deserted area, but I have to get out and look.
Nothing ensnared on the wide chrome grille of my old car. Beneath the grille, however, are unscreened compartments and there, on the dark, recessed shelf, is a bird.
Alive and moving around. Gray, orange, and cloud-white, like the morning.
I take off my heavy black cardigan, wrap it around my hands, and reach in.
Gently, gently… then a soft, warm weight is in my sweatered hands. I make sure to cover its wings to avoid panicked and possibly injurious flapping. Its head is gray. Small gray beak opens and closes without a sound. Its eye, turned toward me, has a faint purplish hue, slightly reminiscent of my pet parakeet when I was six. The gray back and pale-orange coloring on the breast had me thinking robin, but now I can see it’s not. I don’t know what kind of bird this is.
Oh, little bird. I am sorry. As if my speaking will help, somehow.
I cannot stand here gawking at it. The creature has survived the trauma of my car; I don’t want it to die from terror of me.
I think of being in the hands of God.
Please don’t let it die, I pray. Is this a selfish prayer? I don’t know how badly the bird is damaged.
And what am I going to do with it now.
The woods…I skim for a sheltered spot. I step in the leaves and a sudden sound startles me: a rabbit goes skittering away, its big white cottontail bobbing against the sepia scenery. I had no idea it was there. What else is here that I cannot see—? I am shivering. I find a small ridge of leaves and pine straw by a bit of barren brush and there I lay the bird.
The bird turns itself from side to breast, facedown. There’s a bit of white edging on its tail feathers. I wish for to something cover it. The morning is so cold. My sweater might entangle its legs; scraping pine straw over it might alarm it.
I will go. I will not stay to see the outcome. It will recover, or it won’t. I recall the woodpecker that flew smack into the glass wall of the school where I work; it landed on its back in the flowerbed mulch and lay so still I was sure its neck was broken. Within a moment, it managed to flip itself right side up, ruffled its feathers, and flew off—zip!—as if nothing had happened. The robin I extricated from the grille of my sister-in-law’s car, having traveled miles down the interstate at 70+ mph, hopped around my backyard for a day before it flew away. Birds are hardier than they look…at least robins and woodpeckers are.
Should this pretty little bird die or recoup…it will be in its own natural setting.
In the hands of God. Not a sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father...
It is hard, yes, to leave it there and walk away. But I have done so before. With people whom I loved very much.
It is Yours.
Back in the car, I circle the tiny church named for St. John, heading on toward crystal-coated fields and misty-mirror ponds and the work that lies ahead. The little bird will never know that I will remember it, that it’s now part of me, stuck to my soul as long as I live. I know it and that is enough on this cold, fiery-sky morning, orange and gray, breathtaking glory tinged with, but not diminished by, loss.
“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” —Psalm 139:9-10 (my favorite of the Psalms).This is the view leaving my neighborhood.
As best I can determine: My unexpected passenger was a female eastern bluebird.