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Home sweet home (07/30/2008)
By Cynthya Porter
Life's little epiphanies have a funny way of sneaking up on me in the least expected places, sprinkling in powerful "aha" moments even during the most mentally vacant points of my day.

Take, for example, the dove family in my back yard. Oh sure, at first I thought they were just little cooing trespassers who figured my ladder was the best place for a nest.

Think again. These birds had an important life lesson to share, and I'm just glad I caught it before it was too late.

The ladder never seemed like a particularly good place for a nest to me, it hangs sideways along the garage and is only about four feet off the ground.

But for some reason, mother dove thought it looked perfect and she's scrabbled together some grass and twigs there the past several seasons.

Because the nest is entirely visible, my daughters and I have enjoyed front row seats to one of the most marvelous circles in life, from the time the bright blue eggs appear to the day the fledglings are perched precariously on the wires up above.

In return, we cluck over mama bird a bit, making sure there is always a bit of water and bird seed around while she sits in vigil on her impending brood.

With no small excitement my daughter announced one day that two chicks had emerged, both curled into fuzzy little balls in the bottom of the nest while mother went off in search of sustenance.

Okay, you're right, she was probably out trying to find just a moment of sanity after sitting on that nest all those weeks, but seriously, can you blame her?

Anyway, every day we watched as the chicks turned from freakish looking little creatures into feathery birds until they were almost too ridiculously large to sit in the tiny makeshift nest. They were cute, actually they were so ugly they were cute, and I think we all began to feel a little like these birds were a part of our family.

Mama was a good provider and the babies were strong, and some days as I watched her I'd ponder the similarities of this mother outside raising her offspring and me inside raising mine.

Finally the day came when mother dove sat atop the chain link fence and coaxed the babies, it was time to leave the nest.

With a mixture of sadness and pride my daughter and I sat on a bench swing and watched as the first baby made the colossal leap and fluttered next to mom.

But baby two didn't want to go. It just sat there stubbornly staring back, perfectly content right where it was and unmoved by mother's urging.

I thought about my own children just then, how the nest of home is safe and comfortable, and how frightening it must be to have to leave it, presumably forever.

As parents we have the mixed role of sheltering our children while they grow, doing our best to keep them from harm but knowing at a certain point they must grow up and leave.

It's kind of sad really, and just as scary for parents who must coax their children out into the world hoping they have the skills to manage it on their own.

But this baby bird wasn't budging and mother didn't seem sad, she was actually getting kind of miffed. All day she sat there chirping encouragement at baby two, and all day it sat there looking back. Sometimes it would walk to the edge of the ladder and peer up at her, but it was just too uncertain to trust its wings and fly.

Perhaps it was afraid to sleep in the now cavernously empty nest by itself, or perhaps it finally decided if mom said so it must be the right thing to do, but sometime late that evening it finally took the leap and was gone into the shrubbery of the chain link fence with its sibling.

I admit it, I felt proud and strangely moved by the spectacle, and the next morning I went out to the yard to see if mom and babies were still hanging around in the shrubs.

What I found in the back of the yard instead took my breath away.

Carnage.

Maybe it was a cat or some other baby bird devouring night creature, but there by the fence was the unmistakable evidence that one of the babies had been killed overnight. There was no sign of mother dove and the other baby, presumably because they fled for higher and safer ground.

I sank down on the bench swing and cried for the baby bird and for its mother, struck by the cruelty of it all.

Just then my daughter came outside for her morning peek at the birds, and though I tried to stop her she knew right away something terrible had happened. I gave her a hug while she cried too.

"Go back in the house," I told her. "I don't want you outside right now."

Wiping away tears, she headed for the back door with me on her heels. "When can I go outside?" she asked me.

"When you're 35," I replied. 

 

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