Ancient History

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On Mother’s Day, my mother presented me with two flowering hanging baskets. They swing, shed, and shrivel on our front porch.

That same day a pair of birds immediately took notice of the basket with little yellow flowers. If one of us approached the basket we were scolded away by the feathered real estate developers. I thought about moving the basket, but then I reconsideredj. I would let the birds have their lovely little bower. We had birds live in flowering baskets in the past and they never seemed to mind the daily dousing with the big green hose. I always enjoyed seeing and hearing the baby birds grow up. The basket stayed.

After a few days it was apparent we were wrong. The birds did not want to build their home in the basket. They liked the grayer pastures of the porch electrical outlet box where we plug in the Christmas lights. They packed mud on top, a firm foundation. Then they brought in twigs and whatever fluff they could find. The nest complete, dad bird guarded mom bird from his post on top of the light fixture. She sat on the three little eggs with devotion.

Soon the pair flew back and forth with food for the three newborn beaks. The baby birds’ heads were heavy for their toothpick necks, so they wobbled as they waited. The feedings were constant, the babies grew quickly. The early bird may get the worm, but the mid-morning bird, the noontime bird, the afternoon, evening, and nighttime bird apparently gets the equivalent of a side of prime angus beef and a gallon of Caramel Caribou ice cream. One day they were gone.

We began to discuss nest removal. Then I noticed mama bird was spending a lot of time in the nest all of a sudden. Dad was back at his light fixture post. It was clear that round two was beginning.

Four eggs hatched from the new batch. Four nutbrown heads, eight more coffee black eyes, and beaks always open.

Early last week Aidan and Tommy, who were bird watching, noticed one of the baby birds had not only fallen from the nest, but it’s little leg was caught in a twig. It was dangling upside down. The mama bird was helplessly fluttering and frantically cheeping. There was nothing she could do. But I could. Tommy fetched the step stool from the bathroom and Aidan got a pair of latex gloves for my rescue operation. Very carefully I freed the bird’s leg and placed it back in the nest as the mother dive-bombed me. The kids cheered. Mommy’s a hero.

Ryley was bird watching this morning when he noticed one of the birds sitting on the ground by the front door. I didn’t have to ask for the step stool and latex gloves this time—they were brought to me by eager kids anxious to watch me save the birdie. I was amazed how much the babies had grown in a week. I scooped up the little bird and placed it in the nest. As I turned my back I heard a soft rustle and a thud. I looked down. The bird was on the ground again. This time, when I tried to scoop it, it half-ran half-flew to the corner of the porch. I picked it up and put it in the hanging basket, where it immediately tried to leap out. No, bird. Stay. I thought. The world is dangerous. It had problems standing on the soft twisting green shoots. I watched it struggle a little as it tried to get to the edge. I turned my back.

I couldn’t make it stay. I can’t make it stay. The mother was furious—with me, with her baby, with the blue sky, the basket, the worm that got away. I was just trying to help, bird. I’m a mama too. I’ve had babies leave too soon. How I wished a pair of hands could have put them back, safe and sound. But that isn’t the way with nests, with babies, with the instantaneous memory of touch. My gloved hands felt the warm birds and their frantic hearts. I held the delicate. As a child I caught a toad and held it in my cupped hands. It jumped until I let it go in the grass. For several minutes after I freed the toad, I could feel a strange pulsing in my palms—phantom movements that mystified me.

I can still feel the bird, long after relinquishing it back to the diving, flying, leaping instinct housed somewhere under its skin.

I can still feel my little ones who left, early. It’s with awe I consider the baby inside me now. He or she wouldn’t be here if the hands I desperately called for at one time had materialized. I turned my back on the bird today. But God did not turn His back on me, ever. It felt like it during those times. I screamed and dove and tried to get His attention. Put them back! Make it right! Make it okay!

I’ve been given another chance. I am nearing my due date and all indications point to a healthy baby. But I am forever changed by my past and will not fully relax until he or she is in my arms, heavy, moving, pink, warm, mouth wide open. Dawn, day, evening, night I will feed and hover and watch and pray. And if they should fall—if anyone I love should fall—they will be caught. Carried.

Home, I pray.

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