I once had a sparrow
alight upon my shoulder for a moment…
and I felt that I was more distinguished
by that circumstance than I should have been
by any epaulet I could have worn.
-Henry David Thoreau
Right outside the window in our front hallway, we have a birdhouse.
And in that birdhouse, we have house wrens.
And in the spring, the house wrens return from their winter’s journey. Jubilantly they clean house, a study of frenzied efficiency, flinging whatever winter detritus they find out their little front door.
When the spring cleaning is over, Mr. Wren sits on their roof and sings. The joyful, bubbling, unabashed, beautiful clarion call that is the song of the house wren.
And inside my house, heads turn from whatever they are doing, and hearts leap up. Because the wrens are back, and that means spring is really here.
For the next few days, Mr. Wren is busy, stealing twigs and maneuvering them into his little house. We love to shout encouragement when he tries to bring in a twig clearly too large to clear the opening; silly bird, what are you thinking? He always masters the geometry and finagles the stick within.
I’ve tried on many occasions to photograph him, but he never sits still. Busy, busy, he will often stop to sing but his little throat dances so, the camera cannot capture him.
Our cats sit at the window for hours at a time, tails flicking. Everyone loves to watch the wrens.
As spring fades into summer, as I pass by the window, I hear a weird hushed cacophony of tinny cheeps. I stop to excitedly congratulate the wrens on their new family. Mr. Wren hides in the bushes and makes churring noises to scare me away, big brave poppa that he is.
All day long, he tirelessly brings food home to hungry babies, the cheeps doubling in volume every time they sense movement outside their door. Sometimes the movement is Daddy Wren with a caterpillar or an orchard spider. Sometimes it’s just me, walking by.
Then: Flight Day. The babies are pushed out of the nest and told to fly.
Over and over we hear little thuds against the side of our house as they lose control, the shrubbery breaking their fall. Momma and Poppa Wren chirp like crazy cheerleaders; whether they are cheering or scolding I can’t be sure. We watch, we worry; what if they don’t learn in time? What will the darkness bring? Is it OK for us to pick them up and restore them to the safety of their little home?
Our fears are always unfounded. At the end of the day, everyone flies straight and sure, and Mum and babies depart to new quarters. The next morning Dad brings food, but no one’s home. Alas, the nest is empty. Confused, he lingers another day or two, and then he leaves as well.
Sigh. I missed Flight Day.
I don’t know how it happened. I was really looking forward to taking pictures of the babes as they walked around on our pathway, parents walking behind and giving pep talks. I was going to set up a tripod (yes! I acquired a loaner tripod) and attempt to capture those first, erratic flights. I was going to get a decent shot of Mr. Wren, my little bird friend, my bringer of spring.
But a few days ago I suddenly noticed- silence. No trilling, no early morning operatic bird soliloquy. No sudden chorus of cheeping whenever I walked by my window.
So now I’m trying to think- Do they always move on around this time? Do they come back for a bit before winter? Or did something happen?
I feel like they were barely here. I feel abandoned. The music is gone.
On the other hand, a small happiness. We have this tree out front, allegedly a magnolia, and it blooms for, I swear to God, maybe three days every year.
The past three years, the only blooms have been way up high, and by the time I notice, all the blooms have gone crisp and brown.
It is flowering now. And there is one flower that I can get close enough to photograph, if I stand on a stool. Just one. An enormous flower, the size of my forearm.
A small consolation for the missing of flight day.
But consolation nonetheless.