by Kathy Simpson
It’s my first day of springtime yard work. There’s much to be done to clear the way for the new season. I tease out last fall’s remaining leaves from among the dense shrubs, clip back wasted perennial blossoms and sever branches that were taken by the harsh winter, all the while relishing the sight of my two cats rolling about on the gravel driveway as if sloughing off winter’s detritus. It’s their first time out in months. Then I recall the bird’s nest perched on the thin ledge above my front entryway. As of a few days ago, it has become the feverish focus of a pair of Eastern Phoebes who have returned to this spot every spring for as long as I’ve lived here. Cats and low-flying birds not making the best of bedfellows, I tempt my cats back into the house with the promise of food. Sadly for them, that’s where they’ll stay until well after the baby birds have fledged.
The Phoebes are as much a part of my springtime experience as the outdoor chores that demand my attention. They’re a team – mother and father, dedicated and focused, swooping in with new supplies of mud and moss to fortify last year’s nest, chirping noisily as if in conversation. They are constantly in my line of sight, perched on the utility wire as I approach the house, in the tree outside my living room window, flying about the yard whenever I open the front door. I check the nest daily for new developments and signs of life.
On this day, all is strangely quiet. I near the nest, pausing to look up. Just inches above me, the mother Phoebe sits in the nest, utterly still. Moments pass, yet she remains motionless. I have never been this close to a wild bird for so long before. I can practically touch her dark, downy feathers; her watchful eye locks with mine. The busy stage of nest renovation appears to be over. The tender, protective time of attending to her eggs has begun.
That moment stays with me – the Phoebe’s stillness, her ardency, and her complete commitment to her nest and to staying put no matter what. What an example for those of us who practice meditation. It’s also one of those magical moments of connection, when life meets the wonder and immediacy of life and thought drops away – an opportunity that nature offers in every moment of every day in infinite ways, if only we pay attention.
Now the Phoebes are busy again. When I’m in the yard, they fly to their alternate perch on the utility wire 20 feet or so from the nest, making constant chipping sounds as if to draw my attention to them and away from their babies. It doesn’t really work, though. I’m eager to see the tiny heads of their brood emerge above the nest that will quickly become overcrowded, and to watch hopefully as the fledglings take their first tentative flights into their new world, buoyed by air and fresh, new life.