When we moved into our new house, there was a nest on the ledge above our door. When the previous owners were showing us around, they mentioned that the nest had been there for years and that their kids loved it when the birds had babies. All thoughts of knocking it down left me. These two lovebirds had made their home on our house long before it was ours, and they were there to stay.
There were two and they shared a nest; the Mama Bird sitting in the nest, warming the eggs as we would later discover, and Papa Bird standing at attention on the edge of the nest, ready to swoop around anyone who came near. Their presence made leaving our house at night tricky for our guests. We would tell our friends to hunch down low as they walked out of the front door so as not to appear threatening to the birds, which worked most of the time. One time our guests forgot, so Papa Bird swooped into our living room and after much yelling and door opening and broom waving, he exited, having made his point.
Many people rolled their eyes that we kept the nest. My grandpa told us to knock it down because there was a collection of bird poop accumulating to the right of our doormat, but I could not be persuaded. These lovebirds were residents here before us, and we had no right to destroy their home and shoo them away. I felt the same way about the bunny in our backyard that Lucy chased unsuccessfully (mercifully) each morning.
One morning, I heard lots of squeaks outside the door, and when I went outside, I saw little heads poking just above the nest, crying for Mama. I saw these baby birds a few weeks after finding out I was pregnant this past summer, and I was breathless. I remember seeing baby birds in a neighbor’s tree for the first time when I was 10, and I felt like a child again, full of wonder, seeing them poke their beaks in the air, searching for Mama to give them food. The miracle of life right outside my door. How ordinary and miraculous.
After I saw them, I greeted the Mama Bird when I came home from work each night: “Hey Mama, you’re doing great. Those babies are getting so strong.” I lowered my head and hunched down to show Papa Bird that I had no intention of harming his family. As my own tiny hope grew each week this summer, my attachment to those birds grew. “Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul,” Emily Dickinson wrote, and it was embodied in Mama Bird. I took those baby birds to be a sign of hope.
Mid-July, I was fighting hope and fear regarding my own pregnancy. Everything looked good, and I could not help that thing with feathers from perching on my soul. The winds of change were blowing in from different directions—my own calling to ministry pulling me forward, my past grief swirling about me waiting to land once again, my fear threatening to blow me over. And one night, winds came in and blew down our actual fence.
JD did the best he could to repair it enough so that Lucy would not be able to enjoy an expansion pack to our backyard, and I checked on the birds—they were safe. But it was time to get a new fence. After a few phone calls and visits from contractors, we knew we would be getting a fence with a new roof and gutters thrown in.
I spent most of my time at the hospital working, and our fence was completed quickly. They began on our roof, and painted our trim, and gave our house a facelift. Change was certainly blowing in.
Then one evening, I pulled into our driveway, stomach grumbling, and went to the front door. I looked up above the door, and they were gone.
The ledge above the door was completely clean: no nest, no birds, nothing. And as tears filled my eyes, I exclaimed, “What kind of heartless bastards knock down a nest of baby birds?!” I mean, really, what kind of animals take out a family of birds, with no regard for its home or the other tenants of the house?
I sent JD a text with instructions to really lay into our contractors for removing the nest to God knows where and didn’t they have any regard for our wishes for the living beings on our property and what kind of monster takes out a nest of baby birds? My beloved husband did talk to the contractors (but he didn’t use words like bastard or monster), who told us the birds were swallows, which were territorial and known for attacking humans by pecking their heads.
Whatever, you heartless beast. Those birds were heavenly beings, and now a curse is probably on your business for knocking their home down.
I was pretty upset for a few days. Sure, I was sad about the baby birds probably dying. I had found it romantic that these birds preceded us at the house, and now they were gone. It was like an erasure of the short history of the house. But most significantly, I wondered what the disappearance of the birds meant for me. I had taken those baby birds and the faithful Mama Bird and protective Papa Bird as signs of hope for my own fledgling pregnancy. They greeted me each day (okay, sure, with a wary eye and a threat to swoop at any moment) with a reminder of new life and growing families.
What kind of sign is the vanishing of the nest? The probable doom of the baby birds? I am not one who takes to signs. But these birds. And Emily Dickinson. How could I not?
I haven’t thought about those birds in awhile. These past few months my mind has been filled with the little heartbeat inside me, my growing belly, the million things to do. I wonder where Mama Bird and Papa Bird are right now. I read that swallows mate for life, and they migrate for the winter. I hope they have found somewhere warm. I also read that they like to nest in the exact same spot each year, so maybe they’ll be back. Maybe I’ll be hunched over my own baby’s head to protect it when leaving the house when the new baby birds are born next summer.
Or maybe the swallows will start over somewhere else. Maybe our new trim and gutters will be foreign to them, and it won’t feel like home. Perhaps they’ll find a new home to lay new eggs.
I still don’t understand how one kills baby birds. And I still don’t have an interpretation for their ruthless murder at the hands of a monster whom I refused to see after his heinous act.
But maybe hope has feathers so it can migrate fresh each year. So it can not only fly old, familiar patterns, but so it also can spread its wings over new flight.
So it can create and recreate home as seasons change. So it can peck the head of bastards who seek to destroy its life.
But in all seriousness, maybe hope has feathers so it can perch lightly and freely, ready to jump off into a beautiful fall at any moment. The thing about hope with its feathers is that it is mobile and unattached and free. It seems fragile, but really it’s agile. It may leave for the winter, but it will be back. Maybe it will nest in a different place, but it will return. It will find its way back faithfully, ready to nestle in again.