LITTLE STORIES OF MOSTLY BIRDS
Late last summer on a warm and dusky evening we found ourselves paddling through lake water in the company of a hungry loon. We watched, frozen by thrill, as she circled, explored, fished; and when she dove deep, deep, deeper, we laughed and threw our bodies flat on the surface of the lake, terrified by the prospect of an underwater brush of the leg, a surprise nibble of the toe. When she resurfaced long after we had given up on her return, we cried out her new location in hushed joy. We stayed, watching, bobbing in the water, until we could barely make out the shape of our car at the lake's edge.
On Sunday, under a purpling sky, Craig and I slipped across the muddied path toward the chicken coop. Along the way- rhubarb, lemon balm, bleeding hearts, too much farm detritus to mention, poppies, thyme, no asparagus, deer and turkey in the far field, a single red winged blackbird clicking on a cattail. While Craig coaxed Louis the gander to bed, I scanned the sky. Within seconds something small and dark flew over my head. It's shape was confusing and though its dance was somewhat swallow-esque, it lacked the telltale grace. It's dives were more tumble-y and out of control, as if it couldn't keep its own body up, but still: the movement was joyous. And then it was known- a bat. In six springs I've never seen a single bat, though not for lack of bat house construction on the part of the littlest in our ranks. I had Craig track the thing while I ran in to pull Gus away from his tooth brushing. Outside, half dressed and mouth agape, Gus watched in silence, in joy, in reverence.
A few minutes later Gus was atop the compost pile, toeing up the top of the mound and releasing clouds of heat into the cool night air. When I turned back to the pond, the bat was gone. Two nights later I saw him again and let free a hope from the top of my head, like steam rising from hot, composting earth: may he find this place as comforting a home as we do.
I hope he comes back.
Yesterday, on three separate occasions, I found myself so overwhelmed with emotions related to the sight or behavior of birds that I barely kept my wits about me. They are as follows:
-Louis and Serena bravely paddled a foot or two out into the pond. Something absolutely ordinary for geese, but markedly extraordinary for my geese. They have, up until yesterday at approximately 10:23 a.m., preferred a child's electric blue paddling pool. Bearing witness to their first gentle dip into the pond was like watching a babe's first cautious steps, the world blooming right in front of them.
-For the third time in just as many weeks, we watched bald eagles (three yesterday) circle and soar over our homestead. We found ourselves simultaneously awed and alarmed by their presence. One does not easily keep chickens with crowds like these, but knock on wood, as they say.
-The swallows came home in earnest. Craig and I had been reporting possible sightings back and forth for a little over a week but what's a swallow sighting if you can't know it for sure? In the late afternoon the boys had gone in and I had stayed in the yard, arms akimbo, surveying the new fence layout that both allows the chickens and geese to free range but keeps them from the woods and shitting on my front porch. Just then three tree swallows dove out of the willow, falling gracefully towards the pond, pulling up only when it seemed too late. In that moment I was elated by the presence of modern convenience in my back pocket. I could stay with the swallows while texting Craig, "Swallows!!" And then a second later, "Come quickly but quietly."
This morning on the way to school Gus was broken out of the sort of gentle hypnosis that comes with staring at the side of the road while it whizzes by the car window. "Mama, I saw a loon!", he exclaimed from the back seat.
It occurs to me that above all my callings as a parent, to raise a child whose fabric of being is woven with the natural world- it is of the utmost.