The other day I went out to the barbeque grill to make the kids a chicken breast for dinner. I lifted the lid and found it was stuffed with leaves and twigs. At first I thought someone was playing a joke on me but when I looked at the debris more closely it seemed that someone had spent way too much time on this for it to be a joke. The twigs and leaves were arranged in a way that was both random and yet precise. It was densely packed and yet light and airy. It was planned and designed, while at the same time having a rough, natural quality to it.
And then it hit me – it was not someone who had stuffed these twigs in my barbeque grill. It was something. A bird. A mother bird.
I found two purple speckled eggs nestled deep in the nest. They looked like the kind of eggs you can buy at Easter at Target, the kind that have a candy shell and chocolate on the inside. But these eggs were real, with real baby birds inside of them.
The mother bird must have entered and exited through the small ventilation holes in the back of the grill. She must be small if she squeezed through those spaces. I wondered how long it had taken her to build this nest. It must have been less than five days because I had used the grill the week before. She was fast. I wondered if this was an unplanned pregnancy and she was in a hurry...
I called the kids to have a look and then we gently closed the top of the grill again, leaving the eggs to incubate in the dark, quiet safeness.
The next day when we got home from school Grant wanted to take a peek at the nest so he lifted the grill top but this time the mother bird was in the nest and when the roof of her world suddenly opened up and daylight poured in, she flew away in a panic. It happened so fast we could hardly see her, she was nothing more than a brown blur streaking away from the grill and into a nearby bush. The eggs were still nestled safely in their twiggy bed.
Grant and I agreed that we had shocked the mother bird and that we had to be more considerate and more protective of her in the future. We vowed not to lift the top of the grill until the babies had hatched and the little family had moved out. I have no idea how long that will take, and I also have no idea how we will know when the birds have hatched and the family has moved out if we don't lift the top of the grill. Sort of a catch 22 - we can't lift the grill top until the birds have moved out but we won't know if the birds have moved out unless we lift the grill top. I plan to give her as much time as I think she needs and then double that. And then double that again.
Meanwhile I pray that the mother bird wasn't so frightened that she abandoned her nest forever. That seems like something that could happen in nature. The mother bird might decide that the nest that she thought was so safe wasn't safe at all, for God's sake the whole entire sky lifts off with no notice, and that she can't bring her babies into a world like this so she will leave them to dry up and die now in their shells. That will be better for them in the long run, to not even be born into a world where darkness turns into blinding light with no notice. Where disaster strikes without warning, without caring, without concern.
I'm secretly fascinated by the fact that the mother bird was frightened when Grant lifted the cover of her little home, and yet she has no idea that she is sitting on a much greater, much more real threat, that she is completely unaware of. She has built a dry, brittle home just inches away from a propane tank. When Grant lifted the top of the grill he scared her but in fact, there was nothing to fear there but fear itself. Meanwhile there is a real and present danger just inches below her that was not even on her avian radar.
It makes me think about how fickle threats are, and how incapable we are of detecting them and avoiding them. It seems almost pointless to try because we will end up chasing shadows and flashes of light. Fleeing from perceived threats that are in fact harmless and completely missing the real and present dangers. Telling our kids to stay away from that reclusive man who lives across the street, meanwhile letting them get on the bus with a driver who, unbeknownst to us, is running on two hours of sleep.
I wish the mother birds knew that I'm watching over her. That I will make sure the kids never again disturb her. That I turned the propane tanks off. That no one will turn them on, no one will burn her nest up. That the daylight will never come pouring in on her again.
But she doesn't know I'm here. And I don't know how she's doing because I can't check on her without disturbing her. But I hope that she came back to her nest, that she gave it one more chance, that she didn't allow her skittishness to overwhelm her faith in a greater presence that is looking out for her.
June 5 update: I was hanging some laundry in the backyard today and as I was returning to the back door I noticed a small brown bird who flew up close to the grill but stopped on the window sill. I froze. The bird seemed to be chewing on something – maybe worms? Then after a couple of minutes she flew up and into the barbeque grill. She did. She flew in. She came back. She gave it one more chance.