Tuesday, June 12, 2012
last may i was in massachusetts at the house on the hill where my parents live. the house is situated above what i like to call our golden pond—that's beck pond on a map—the place where i grew up and still, to some extent, consider home.
the weather was pleasant and sunny but not yet warm enough for swimming. my dad, a fit and healthy eighty year-old, was busy preparing lunch while i visited with my mother. over the last few years my mother's health has been steadily deteriorating, slowly diminishing under the silently prowling brain thief that is alzheimer's disease. speech is cumbersome for her—her ability to express even the simplest of thoughts is disappearing, and the few words she does manage to say are arrived at only after a great struggle. but on that day we were, in our own figure-it-out-as-we-go-along fashion, "conversing", with me holding her hand and guessing—do you mean this, mom? or this? no? how about this?—and filling in her blanks, trying to get the answers right like i was taking a bizarre multiple choice exam.
after lunch, my father and i made my mother comfortable on a chaise lounge on the patio overlooking the pond—she walks with difficulty and staircases are treacherous for her—and went down the stairs to the water, with my mother in our sight the whole time. we came back up and walked by the vegetable garden, checked to see if my mother needed anything, and continued around the other side of the house past my parents' beautiful stonewalls and up a long stone staircase—all built by my father (my mother helped) using stones they found on their property. (when you need rocks for a landscaping project it helps to live in new england where backyards can be full of them.)
it was then that my father pointed out the nest.
a large robin's nest filled with four gorgeously blue eggs.
but it struck me that something was wrong, horribly wrong.
i couldn't believe what i saw.
why—oh tell me why?—would a bird build its nest on the ground? i've seen nests built quite low in trees and bushes, but never on the ground, and this one was next to the foundation with no bushes or plants or anything to camouflage it, no protection whatsoever from predators.
when i looked at that nest, so utterly, hopelessly, exposed in a corner by the chimney, i was overcome with sadness, a deeper sadness than the situation called for. after all, birds and animals die all the time—nature is cruel, nature is unsympathetic. that's life. those are the facts. i knew that, knew it well. i thought get a grip; get over it. but in that moment i couldn't. i was hit hard by what i believed was the nonexistent future of the tiny lives contained within those shells; i was overcome by inexplicable and somewhat irrational emotion. i just wanted to be able to do something to fix things, to make things right, and yet there was absolutely nothing i could do, no way to change the outcome fate had in store for the baby birds.
a few weeks passed. one day i was on the phone with my father and suddenly i thought of the robin's eggs. i asked him if, by some miracle, the babies had hatched without incident. of course, i already knew the answer, but i waited for him to tell me exactly what happened.
there was not much to tell—events unfolded quickly. turns out, it didn't take long for what some people might call a bad luck disaster, and others might call a good luck opportunity—depending on whose side you're on—to come skulking along. the possibility of life for those unhatched-lings, which had been in doubt from the start, was like a dream—like something longed for, hoped for—with the dream coming to an abrupt end about a week after i left massachusetts. when hungry bellies demand sustenance and the brain yells go find food, what choice does any creature have?
my father informed me that the interior of the nest was in shambles—of the four eggs only three were left, and those were cracked wide open, their warm, wet interiors sucked dry, signaling fullness and contentment for a crow or a bluejay, a raccoon or a skunk. (he never did find the remains of the fourth egg.) not such a tragic situation, really—lives given up so other lives could manage to make it through another day. that's the way it goes.
i felt nothing after he told me the news—my emotional overdrive had been spent when i saw the nest.
actually, that's inaccurate. i no longer felt emotion for the ransacked nest, but i did experience an emotional response after i hung up the phone. i thought about my mother. it occurred to me that she had no idea about what had happened, no idea how events played themselves out after the nest's discovery. the story of the nest and its contents remained with her for a short time and then was lost—it became part of the realm of mystery—unless she was reminded of its existence.
in her world, facts such as these don't matter—they are completely useless to her. the facts remain for me and my father to decipher—we alone can break into them and get at them, allowing them to signal the beginning of another chunk of time, another chunk of reality different than hers, one where life has a before and after. we've become sharply aware of our own lives: it's as if we're in a kind of passage and, in order for us to avoid losing our way in this brittle existence, we need to know where we've been to help us figure out where we're going.
~ i took the photo of the nest on the day i saw it last year. my father was kind enough to save it for me after it was raided so now it's one of the nests i put on the christmas tree every year. the nest reminds me of a year of changes, and it always leads me to bittersweet thoughts of my mother.