Season of Hope and Renewal
Ever since I purchased a wire mesh feeder and a bag of black oil sunflower seed from Gulley’s, I’ve been hooked.
Having never shown the slightest interest in things avian, I wondered if a midlife crisis might be manifesting itself in other ways. Instead of scheduling a transplant to cover my receding hairline or heading to Vegas in a rented red convertible, birding became my new hobby.
Last year I bought a bluebird box, hoping to invite some blue-winged wonders to start a family in my backyard.
The first time I checked the box, around the middle of April, I was thrilled to find a nest, a perfectly cupped nursery made from moss and coconut fiber from a deck planter.
A couple of weeks later, two brown-speckled white eggs rested in the mossy cradle. They were obviously not bluebird eggs, yet sadly the house fell and the eggs cracked when our dog’s leash wrapped around the mounting pole after she dashed for a squirrel during a morning walk.
Knowing the nesting period for bluebirds was far from over, I cleaned out the box, secured it in the sandy soil, and once again hoped a male bluebird might coax his girlfriend into choosing the condo for their first brood.
A few weeks later, I noticed a male and female bluebird nibbling some suet I’d hung from a pine. They took turns flying back and forth to the box, occasionally sitting on top, sometimes poking their heads inside. Male bluebirds show the female several possible nesting locations. She, however, makes the final decision, not unlike my own house-hunting experiences!
One day I spied a female bluebird flying into the box with a pine needle clamped in her beak. She’d stay awhile, fly away, then return in a few minutes with another piece of pine-straw. The male watched from a nearby tree, sometimes leaving to swoop down and perch on top of the box, other times entering, perhaps to see how the decorating was going.
Not long after that, I took a peek and discovered a beautifully crafted pine needle nest where an expectant mother had laid the first of five Carolina-blue eggs. I began calculating the days until I’d become a proud grandparent to five baby bluebirds.
I checked the eggs daily, but after the designated incubation time, I began to be concerned. The eggs hadn’t hatched and no parents were in sight.
I gave them another week, and another, and still another, but no signs of life ever emerged.
I cleaned out the box, gently laying the masterpiece of a nest and its contents under the shade of a variegated hosta. A few days later the nest was still there but the cradle was empty.
I’m not sure what happened yet I was reminded that sometimes loss occurs in that way. We simply don’t understand why. We wait, filled with expectation and hope, imagining what it will be like when the baby arrives, the house gets built, the “I dos” have been said, the kids leave home or the new job begins. Sometimes things turn out as we envision and sometimes not.
I realize the loss of that first clutch of bluebird eggs can in no way compare to the loss of a spouse, a child, a marriage, a job or a dream. Yet in its simplicity, that lifeless nest reminds me of how loss shadows our days as well as how our response to loss often defines not only who we are but what we will become.
After this winter’s first icy snow, I noticed several bluebirds swarming around the suet feeders. Later I saw a male and female taking turns resting on the box, once even chasing a curious wren from the opening.
A couple of weeks ago I spotted a pine needle dangling from that opening, and last week, I discovered another perfectly crafted pine straw nest for what I hope will be a new clutch of bluebird eggs.
For me, there’s something sacred about the possibility of new life finding a home in my backyard as Lent reaches its climax. This week, Holy Week, is filled with stories of profound loss and disappointment — a sinister plot, a notorious betrayal, a staggering denial, a trumped-up accusation, an agonizing death. But Easter, in all its mystery and splendor, invites us to believe that we can start over, that there is still much good to embrace in life, that our world is a place of radiant wonder, and that our losses, no matter how simple or profound, are never beyond the reach of redemption and hope.
Tom Allen is minister of education at First Baptist Church, Southern Pines and a regular contributor to PineStraw magazine.
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