“Our birds are back,” my Dad tells me in the garden twilight. I’m watering my seed beds, and he is watching the swallows dip and weave above us. He comments on the robin jauntily hopping across the lawn. “After a little water in the grass, that robin is looking for easy worms,” he muses. I smile. “Mom told me about your birds.”
We wonder aloud at what bird secrets their finches must whisper to one another. “Fly west to a little gray house nestled in a valley. Look for a black porch light by the white front door. You will find the old family nest waiting for you there.”
My parents anxiously anticipate these birds whose kin have been returning to the same nest for decades. It’s a reunion that might not have happened, if the birds hadn’t been so fastidious. My father had foiled their first attempts at a nest, believing then that they couldn’t properly tend their young so close to the comings and goings of the house. Faster than he could tear down the bits they’d gathered, however, the birds returned, bringing more materials and carrying on with their weaving.
Eventually, this first pair of finches settled on top of a grapevine wreath hanging by the front door, where they — or more likely their offspring — returned for a couple of years. After my parents removed the wreath, the finches simply built a new nest on top of the porch light, where they have been nesting ever since.
Throughout the early weeks of summer, we all receive regular bird updates. “The eggs have hatched,” my mom tells me. “Oh, sorry,” I overhear her say to one of the birds when she and I are chatting on the phone. “I’ll go back inside so you can get into your nest.” “The birds are fledged and learning to fly,” my dad offers one afternoon.
If we come to the house at the right time, my mom will probably fetch the stepstool and a hand mirror so we can get a glimpse of the pink hatchlings, their mouths agape, their necks craning awkwardly. Whoever leaves the porchlight on is bound to get a gentle scolding. Little by little, the pair of birds gets comfortable with the normal ruckus of a household and flies freely to tend their young. There is no want of wonder as we watch this process.
As quickly as they come, the finches are gone. I always sense a little wistfulness in their vices when my mom and dad tell me that the fledglings have left the nest. In a way, these birds seem to be a part of my parents, representing a kind
of quiet hope, a reverence for the forces that bring these finches to their front porch year in and year out.
They aren’t “my birds,” but I understand my parents’ protectiveness. “My birds” are a pair of bluebirds that have hatched their young in a house by the cutting garden. When my daughter announces that a magpie is harassing their nest, I fling open the window and yell like some sort of crazy woman. The wily magpie returns, and I run out to shoo it away again, my heart beating in my ears.
It may seem silly, but I say a little prayer of safety for my bluebirds. I want them to whisper bird secrets like my parents’ finches and return to us, so we can relish the wonderment of seeing their kin again and again.
Carey Denman lives on a small acreage where she tends a garden, a few chickens and the hearts of her four children. Her column chronicles the joy, gratitude, humor and chaos of life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org