The Lantern Books Blog: Lantern Books 2005 Essay Contest Runner-Up, Patricia Fish
May 1, 2006 7:36am
Love is for the Birds
by Patricia Fish, Georgetown, Deleware
It’d been a particularly grueling week and a pleasant weekend awaited, void of hurry and social obligations.
My teenage daughter got caught hooking school and it took several days to deal with the repercussions. My husband and I argued almost constantly, the disagreements mostly about our troublesome adolescent. It seemed that everyone in my life to whom I’d given my deepest love was bent on causing me heartache and pain. In this mid-June the gardens beckoned. The time had come for me take a vacation from emotions and relationships and concentrate on the pretty flowers and sweet-singing birds that brought great joy to my eco-system.
For a couple of mind-healing days I would weed and dig and observe the nesting birds of my gardens. Banished was all numbing emotion and disappointment from the very ones who claimed to love me. The denizens of the gardens wouldn’t inflict their endless dramas and pain on me. There’s plenty of happy love in the gardens, right?
Because love, as I saw it then, was nothing but a pain.
It began with the Mama Duck. Whose children, it would turn out, were very disobedient and this caused her great pain. She and her mate were walking up the sloped lot. My house was on a small cove and ducks were frequent visitors to the garden. This pair was followed by six cute ducklings and I leaned on my shovel to watch the happy family. Then the ducklings, every one of them, decided to head down to the pier for a spontaneous dip. Mama Duck called them with a stern quack, but guess what? They paid her no mind and all jumped merrily into the waters. Hidden by the bulkhead, Mama Duck could no longer see them.
She quacked duck reprimands to young ones who wouldn’t come when called, then both parents waddled down to the pier to find their misbehaving young ones. At water’s edge Mama Duck peered down into the water and evidently could not locate her offspring. From my vantage point I couldn’t see whether the ducklings were there or not. But Mama knew they weren’t there and she began to quack her dismay. Not that I was any expert on dismayed ducks, but I knew her quack call got longer and more frantic with each passing second. For five full minutes she quacked and I could feel a mother’s fear in the painful depth of her calls.
After a bit she began to walk the lot, her mate right behind. They walked around and peeked under the garden shed, she quacking her mother’s call of distress, he following behind. They walked through the vegetable garden, pulling up cucumber vines and calling, still calling. Finally they were at the top of the lot. For fifteen minutes they searched and called their children. Now they were faced with nothing but a chain link fence. The babies, it would seem, were gone.
Mama Duck’s quacks were fewer and more forlorn. How could all six of her children disappear so suddenly? I wondered. Then six little ducklings jumped up from the water onto the bulkhead. Back, I assumed, from their adventure. Mama Duck’s reaction to the return of her wayward children caused me to jump. For she took off down the lot as if a duck possessed. Her quacks were utterances of pure joy, because if I didn’t know one duck quack from another an hour before I surely did when those ducklings returned to their mother’s complete joy.
Children, I mused after the incident, cause pain across the species spectrum.
That night, well after midnight and when nesting birds should be safely ensconced in their nest, my husband quickly turned down the sound to the TV and bade me to listen.
“It’s the starlings,” he explained. The quiet night was filled with the sounds of frightened and startled birds.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“Probably an owl or snake getting to them,” husband shrugged.
I didn’t especially like the starlings that decided to build a nest in the eves of my house. These are considered “trash” birds. But the nest was too high on the house for us to get to safely and I don’t think either my husband or I would have had the courage to destroy a bird’s nest at any rate. Even so, I listened to the sounds of birds in the middle of the night and knew that something very terrible was happening to those baby starlings and their mother.
The next morning the father starling landed on the tree by the nest and as he did every morning, emitted a hoarse loud whistle that was the sound of his species. Just as soon as he sent the call, the avian notion was that it was safe for the mother to come out of the nest. Nests, being small affairs, were occupied at night by only the mother and nestlings. The male roosted elsewhere and returned in the morning to summon his family when all was safe.
I heard the male starling call his family and I knew that he would not be answered. Soon enough, I thought, gathering my garden tools and heading off to the flowers, he would realize that his family was gone.
Except the starling sent out that hoarse whistle all day, every five seconds of every minute of every hour. I wanted to throttle him, I wanted to cry with him, I wanted to be his grief counselor. His calls got louder and longer. He sent the calls out from every branch on the tree. Then he flew to the roof and called his family from there. Every time he whistled I wondered, does he think that this time they will come out from the nest?
For seven straight hours the male starling called his family. He never left the tree, he didn’t eat, he didn’t drink. He and his offspring might be considered the trash of the bird world but to him his family was everything. They might well have been a cherished endangered species to him, and why not? Though the skies might be filled with the black speckled feathers of the starling, for this father starling, the bottom had dropped out of his world.
What happened to the garden of my dreams? I wondered. Heartbreak, it would seem, was everywhere.
The last day of my weekend I approached the gardens with some new plants and a guarded hope. Let there not be any more drama in the garden, I wished, because a gardener with some new plants is a happy gardener.
Then the chipmunk got too close to the chickadee nest.
I was taking a porch break, a refreshing glass of iced tea and a beautiful day to entertain me. I didn’t know it was a chipmunk causing the chickadee ruckus but I knew something had those little birds in an uproar.
Every year for the past ten these sweet little birds with the cute little black masks built their nest in a fence pole on my property. The pole held up the ubiquitous chain link fence. It was in one of the “diamonds” of the chain link that I saw the male chickadee “fighting” the chipmunk. He was flexing wings in the manner of a boxer before the coming fight. I couldn’t help but smile.
His mate perched on a branch of a nearby tree. Females will sometimes join in a fight against a predator but this lady chickadee was content to let her hero mate duke it out with the chipmunk.
Which he did because after a barrage of pecking assaults from the male chickadee one chipmunk squealed and ran down the lot and away from the nasty bird. The chipmunk was likely only nosing around for acorns but he was a little too close to the chickadee nest for the birds’ comfort.
As the chipmunk ran for cover, the female flew over to a branch by the chain link. The male flew by her side. She jumped and down in excitement, wiggling her wings just as she likely did during their courtship. He reached over and gently deposited a seed into her beak.
Only he didn’t have a seed in his beak.
Well it certainly looked like a kiss to me.
It was a fine and upbeat ending to my vacation from life and love.
Make that a vacation from “human” life and love. For my eco-system was full of the same dramas, pains and joys as my human life. Same plots, same characters, same endings.
Only difference was the species of the actors.