The House that Wren Built – Part IV


I thought I was done writing about the mother wren but today’s events may be the final “chapter.” It is Good Friday and it is no surprise that the theme of death is very present for many as the journey through Holy Week brings us to today when the crucifixion of Jesus is heavily in the hearts and minds of millions. This is part of my journey too yet it is oddly enough amplified metaphorically on a different level with the baby wren’s death right on my doorstep.

Yesterday I wondered how many baby wrens there were and today I found out. I left the house around noon and noticed an odd smell as I locked the door. I haven’t seen any sign of the mother wren nor have I heard any more baby bird chirps coming from the nest. Yet I have been reluctant to mess with the nest to find out because I didn’t want to keep the mother wren from returning. I did take a closer peek before heading to a Good Friday service and thought the nest was empty. I wrongly concluded the odor must have been from the baby bird I buried yesterday.

I came home several hours later and the odor was by now very strong, the smell of death. I got even closer to the nest and clearly the odor was indeed coming from inside of it. I asked Pedro to solve this mystery because I didn’t think I could stomach any more. Yet I had to see what happened. He took the nest to the yard and gently pulled it out of the Nautilus Shell. With a few twigs he pulled the nest apart and there in the midst of a well constructed home were two more lifeless baby birds. I couldn’t believe it.  We looked for signs of trauma on their tiny bodies but saw nothing.

I don’t know what happened to them and now I wonder about the mother wren.  What was her fate? Did she abandon these babies? I think the mystery will never be solved. I am not a coroner or even close to an ornithologist. I just see a sweet, hopeful story that has ended badly. A mother bird has to let go of her three babies and I don’t feel like extrapolating meaning at the moment. Instead I gently moved the dead baby birds with a garden shovel near the statue of St. Francis and buried them with their sibling. The open hands with two birds on it at the feet of St. Francis has become their tombstone. They rest beneath the statue of the open hands.  “Lord, have mercy.” This is the only prayer I have today.

The House that Wren Built – Part III

My interest in the mother wren on our front porch has taken an unexpected turn, from hope to joy to mourning.  A few days ago I heard the sweet, high-pitched, chirp chirps of baby birds in the nest and was happy that the eggs survived recent freezing temperatures and new life was born! I felt the same joy seeing the red rosebuds and white blossoms on the dogwood and pear trees open. Their presence exclaims their hearty fragility to have overcome icy winds and burst forth in splenderous array. Having the mother wren nearby has taught me the sound of her great song in the mornings when she greeted the new day at dawn in the red, Japanese maple near her nest. I didn’t dare open the door to hear her song but peeked out the window and knew it was her praising her Creator as it is her innate nature to do so. My grateful heart for her surviving yet another cold night soared with her song. Hope rises with the sun in such moments.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. I had come home from a meeting feeling peaceful and stretched, like my spirit had gone to an exercise class. My body needed to stretch also so I took on the task of cutting back a dead palm that didn’t survive the January snowstorm. I had been avoiding the unpleasant task, hoping new life would spring forth like Lazarus from the grave. Somehow I faced the reality that a pruning of the dead parts is a good and necessary thing. As I worked I kept my eyes open for the mother wren and listened for the baby birds’ chirps. It was a warm and beautiful mid afternoon but all was quiet in the house that wren built. When I finished the palm bush I went inside for a break and didn’t emerge until later in the afternoon with my husband and the dogs for our daily walk.

As soon as we set foot out the door the dogs yanked me further down the sidewalk while Pedro locked the door. I thought they were overly excited for their walk, filled with spring fever like me. They stopped suddenly and started sniffing at what I thought were dead leaves but upon a closer look it was a dead,  baby bird. I gasped and couldn’t believe it. My shock gave way to horror. I moved it to the dirt with a stick near the statue of St. Francis and not far from where last year’s Easter lilies are popping through the soil. We continued on our walk but I was sad and perplexed. This was not the ending to the story that I wished to write.  I am accustomed to life and death moments as years of pets and even our walks remind us. A dead opossum in a neighbor’s yard under a shrub is a constant battle with the dogs every time we pass by. We did tell our neighbor it was there but she has chosen to let nature take its course.  Questions arose as we walked:  How could this happen? Who would do such a thing? How many baby birds were there?

My first inclination was to blame the squirrels. We have so many of them around the house and they are always scurrying about.  But that didn’t make sense since I think they like nuts and I have never seen them eating dead animals. Well then I started to blame predatory birds. I know buzzards show up for road kill but even they missed the dead opossum down the street. Pedro mentioned he saw a few birds fly away from the porch yesterday afternoon when he opened the door. He didn’t really get a good look though.

This morning I staked out the front porch with my coffee in hand. It was well past dawn and I had a late start but I hoped for some answers. I watched a gray feathered bird drink from the fountain and eat from the core of the newly trimmed saga palm. I watched the squirrels hunt for their buried acorn treasures and chase each other in the branches of the ivy covered oak. So far no predatory behavior to observe as I welcomed the new day from my rocking chair. I kept thinking about the poor baby bird who will never fly, whose life was cut short. I thought about the mother wren and wondered if she’d been taken too.  Sometimes death comes to our doorstep and robs us of our joy. The analogy extends to my own grief for my mother, father, grandmother, brother and brother in law. The recent deaths of the Parkland High Innocents welled up in me and I can only imagine the grief of the many parents who lost their children that horrifying day, on Valentines Day no less. My heart gave way to prayer that those who mourn will be comforted; that their tears will turn to joy and their mourning will turn to dancing.

Just as I was ready to go inside and make breakfast I noticed several wrens milling about on the sidewalk where the baby bird had been lying lifeless.  I hadn’t buried it yet when I moved it to the dirt. They chirped in short staccato notes, not the usual song I came to recognize at dawn. They appeared to be seeking the baby bird, returning for answers as humans seek to do also in times of tragedy. They found the baby bird lying in the dirt. I waited and watched and after they’d gone I buried the innocent near St. Francis. I hope mother wren will be alright one day soon. I know she has to move forward as we all do and that becomes possible with time and healing.  But even they must mourn and go through their rituals when death comes. This gathering of wrens was a mystery and I don’t understand their ways but I respect them and let them be.

As I write this a flurry of white blossoms has been falling like snow from a nearby tree and I see that the leaf buds have been reappearing and opening up as they do each spring. The blossoms come for a time and are carried off with the wind. The rich green leaves are with us for a time until autumn returns and the leaves are lost to winter’s resting place. I feel hope in spite of the long, frozen winter. I hear crows cawing nearby and now I want to blame them for the baby bird’s untimely demise. I can’t prove it though and don’t want to dwell on death when I know life here on earth is temporary for all.  Still, I want justice where there may be none, not here on earth anyway. I remember these wise words: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:19-21.

The House that Wren Built – Part II

My respect and admiration for wildlife photographers has increased exponentially in my quest to get a picture of the Wren who has built her nest on my front porch. I have tried several approaches to catching a picture of her tucked in her nest but with no success. Until today, that is!

With the onset of wind and cold temperatures the past few days I think she was more than ready to seek shelter at dusk this Sunday evening. We have all been surprised by the sudden weather changes but at least the wind has taken care of the pollen problem to some extent and we didn’t get a blizzard like the northeast.  Am I the only one trying to figure out what a “bomb cyclone” is? Where did these exaggerated terms come from? Can we dial it back a bit?

Excuse me, I digress a bit! Back to Wren…I opened the door to take out the trash and at first I didn’t notice her.  I wasn’t even tiptoeing or gently closing the screen door trying not to scare her.  I didn’t expect her to be there and she didn’t fly away! We momentarily stared at each other and I quickly kept going hoping she would stay there. Of course, I didn’t have my cell phone with me to take her picture. After a minute of pacing in front of the garage plotting my next move, I decided to risk opening the garage door and hope the squeaks it makes wouldn’t scare her away. I got my cell phone and tiptoed toward the porch  to take her picture. I think she was too cold to think of leaving her nest or maybe she is already warming her eggs but I was able to get these few pictures.  Look closely! There is her eye and beak!

I know it isn’t much but I feel it was a success! I  didn’t want to disturb her anymore so I went back inside via the garage.  Next time I am breaking out my 35 mm with the zoom lens in hopes of a better shot.  I think my photographer Dad, God rest his soul, would be mildly proud of my amateur efforts to capture a bit of nature on my doorstep.