The Robin’s Nest

[The nest after being moved from the lamp]

[American Robin: Turdus migratorius.]

I’m sure it was a Robin’s nest.  Every time Mariam or I would use the front deck entrance (with a screen door that slammed louder than the front gate of Alcatraz), a bird with a rusty breast would scold us from a nearby branch of a long-needle pine.

When we arrived home after our late winter trip overseas, neither of us noticed anything.  But one afternoon something caught my eye.  It was atop our outdoor light.  At first it looked like Rip van Winkle’s hat…leafy, twiggy and crusted with mud.  I chanced to pull out our kitchen stool and peaked inside…it was a birds nest, constructed with such engineering skill, it made a beaver dam look like a 6th graders science experiment.  I touched nothing, knowing the rules about birds and nests.

Nothing much happened for a few days.  No sign of any action.  Then on another afternoon, I was in the guest bedroom trying to find a clean flannel shirt for the day (It’s late May, so I get to level down from wool to fleece to flannel.)  I looked out at the lamp.  A mother Robin was tending the nest!  I moved the window shade ever so slightly and she took off to a nearby branch.

We had a family living above our lamp.  Life was about to begin on our front porch.  For several weeks we watched as the mother sat as still as a dead parrot in a cage.  We began to use the back deck for our commerce, avoiding the disturbance of the slamming screen door.  Mariam began to take a special interest in the birds welfare…she watched it from afar like a trained ornithologist…which was great to watch…since she, Mariam not the bird, is from Queens.

A few days ago, I was sitting in our living room reading David Copperfield.  (I’m on page 260…I have only 469 pages left…that’s good for me, I’ve only been at it for four years) when Mariam walked in and announced that she believed the mother bird abandoned the nest.  I thought about it for a few minutes and told her that I thought that the hatchlings had already taken wing.  She didn’t think so.

Today, she asked me to take down the nest as it was obviously empty, but she didn’t want to see inside.  So I went out and actually had to struggle to move the nest.  It was so firmly attached to the lamp that even the stormy weather we’ve had couldn’t possible have budged it.

[The original nest site…pretty good choice I think.]

It was a marvel of…well, nest-making.  But I found no signs of egg shells bits.

I believe the family is gone and the fledglings are fine in the parents care.  Soon, they too will be fully adult by summers end…and will migrate when the time comes…that time when their internal chemistry tells them it’s time to fly south, something I can relate to.

Watching nature’s cycles unfold from a window is a privilege.  This is what living in the North Country offers.

The next major event is black-fly season.  I’ll be watching that play out from the screened-in porch, thank you.  There are some things in nature I just don’t do…getting my blood sucked by anything with wings is not on my to-do list.

What Am I Doing Down Here?

Hey, you.  Yeah, you with the walking stick.  You’ve gotta help me man!  I don’t have much time, so you have to do something and do it quick.

You look like you’ve hiked a few miles in your day…the way you favor your right hip and lean on your wooden staff when you step up on a rock.  You’ve got gray hair so you must be an old guy, right?  (By the way, what’s with the bandanna tied to the leather strap of your pole?  You look like an Old Testament prophet who just stepped out of Dick’s Sporting Goods.)

Well, you may be ancient but I’m not.  I young.  I’m still green.  But some gust of wind detached me from the tree behind me.  I didn’t fall fast, I floated back and forth as I drifted toward the ground.  You can see I landed on a tiny evergreen. (I hate these coniferous trees…they never drop their leaves).  But soon I’m going to be dislodged and I’ll be on the ground with all the rest of these…dead guys.


I know.  I know.  It’s Autumn and the leaves are supposed to turn color (at least my species does) and fall from the tree.  It’s all “part of nature’s cycle,” I get it.  But it’s too early for me.  The drop in temperatures and the decreased sunlight are supposed to trigger the breakdown of my chlorophyll and  I turn a beautiful color.  Seems like I’m going to end up a dull brown hue…not like those maples over there.  They turn scarlet.  Or the beech behind you…it’ll go to some shade of yellow.

But I’m still green.  I’m loaded with chlorophyll.  It’s too soon for me to go.  Can’t you stick me back on the branch…at least for a few more days?  Just a few days…week tops…so I can see the world around me until I just can’t hang on any longer.  I’ll know when that time comes.  No Super Glue is going to hold me to the tree then.  I’ll have to drop…and then it’s over for me.  I’ll be buried by the ten feet of snow they get here…and by Spring, I’ll be pretty well-rotted into the soil.  My only comfort is that my molecules will be rearranged in the earth and I’ll be back.  Just in a different form.

It’s anybody’s guess.  I may return as a poplar or an even a pine cone…or, heaven forbid, a fungus.  I’ve known a few fungi and believe me, they’re no fun to be around.  They don’t even have a chlorophyll.  And, they grow in the most yucky places you can imagine.  Don’t get me started.

But right now I’m an oak.  An oak, man!  Do you understand the implications of this?  I stand for solid, high, and proud.  I’m a metaphor  for strength and life.  My leaf is a symbol for eternity in many northern cultures and folklore.  I also tend to grow in groves in the Celtic countries…and the Druids thought I held weird secrets…and they held ceremonies in my groves–until Christianity arrived and the priests cut my sacred groves down.

I mean, I’m the mightiest and strongest.  When the storm winds blow, the oak remains.And, I come from a wee acorn.  There’s been poems written about me.  “From little acorns grow…” I forgot the rest.

But look at me now…

Perhaps I can share a few family photos from my album:


My mom and dad.


My uncle Burt.  We all told him he had to lose some weight.  He dropped early.


My family tree.


Wait, your leaving?  Wait!  Help me, help me.  You can’t leave me like this.  It’s too soon for me.  I have a few days left.  Please, please put me back on the branch…just for a little while.

Well, good-bye and thanks for nothing.  I can take care of my self…I don’t need you.  I’ll just talk to myself for a while.

Oops!  I’m on the ground now…it won’t be long.  But I can see the blue sky from down here…now that the rest of the leaves have mostly fallen.  Such a pretty blue.  I was much closer to the sky just a few hours ago, and now I can smell the fungus and bacteria that will soon began eating at me.


I won’t feel a thing, though.  They say it’s kind of like dissolving in water.  It’s a slow process.  First you’re here, you’re a leaf, then you’re atoms and molecules.

There’s no pain.

It’s just one big circle.  See you this coming Spring…or if not…some Spring in the future.


The actor Jack Oakie (1903-1978) seen here with Tina Louise. No relation.




On a Night Like This


‘I remember it was on a night very much like this…’

—Words spoken around 10,000 campfires by a billion storytellers for a million years.

I found myself staring at the clouds drifting slowly past the quarter moon.  In these early days of autumn, it should be  a little cooler, but it was a mild evening.  The fire wasn’t needed for warmth…the fire was needed for the mood.

An almost imperceptible breeze blew in from the lake.  I watched the clouds and the moon.  The wind was from the northwest…the weather was going to get cooler.

I poked at the fire and a flurry of sparks rose up into the darkness.  Suddenly, a story came into my mind.

It was a time for tales and legends.

The story came quickly into my head.  It was about a young teenage boy who had to say good-bye to the girl he loved. She was going to travel to a distant land…a place where the people were different and the language was hard to follow.  I saw storm clouds.  I saw lightning.  I heard thunder.  Not in real life, mind you, just in my mind.  The boy was going to worry about his love.

“There was a boy,” I began.  “He had a girlfriend he used to play with.  He always used to love to walk her home on nights like this…on nights very much like this…and they would kick leaves and kiss when the moon went behind a cloud.  But someone came to tell the girl that she had to come home right away…the time to catch the train was near.”

“Wait a minute!” my wife said with a sudden movement.  She got up and leaned over to me.  “Come here…closer,” she said.

I did.

She brushed something out of my hair.

“You had a tiny red spark from the fire caught in your hair.  Gone now.”

“Thanks,” I said, and prepared to continue my story…but there was nothing to say…no words to speak.  No story to tell.  I had forgotten what the tale was about.  I stared at the fire.  I was frustrated.  I knew it was a good story…I just had no idea what it was about.


All this, the fire, the story and the forgetting happened  many years ago.  But I know now what occurred.  That’s because I’m older and presumably wiser.

The spark, I found out, was my idea.  My idea became my story I began to tell.  Without the spark, I had nothing.

Throughout my lifetime, on mountain tops, ancient forests, deserts, glaciers, beaches, islands or backyards…I had countless sparks fall on me.  Most of the time, I just took the story that came with them and put it away…somewhere in my mind…where no one could find it or where I could get it when I needed it.  Some of the time, I would have the spark fall on me and I would tell a fable or a legend.  There were even times when I didn’t need a fire…the sparks fell on me while I sat at my laptop, or with my notebook while I drifted in my kayak, or when I would let the others on a hike go on ahead…so I could be alone.  Or, when I would sit by a tree and rest and think.

I’m sitting here on the dock.  The lake water has become like glass.  The western sky is red.  I’m remembering a place called the Brick Pond, in Owego, NY.  A place in my hometown where magical things happened.  But, right now I can feel the chill of winter approaching.  My summers are over…my springs are a memory and my autumns…well, its autumn now…but it will soon be over.  But, my memory keeps returning to the Brick Pond…in the winter, the dead-cold middle of winter…when my friends and I would build a bonfire.  Oh God, the sparks flew from those huge blazes!  And they fell down on the snow and made tiny black holes before they died.  And they fell down on the snow-covered tree limbs, and for a brief moment, the leafless oak was like a Christmas tree with tiny red lights.  And they fell down on the heads of my friends…all my friends (yes, even my little girlfriend).  I believe with all my heart that they were filled with stories and memories and fables at that moment.

But, today, the bonfire site at the Brick Pond is a small patch of blackened charcoal.  The furry trim of my friends’ hoods, the knit caps and the scarves have been given away and resold countless times.  The black and brown hair of all my childhood companions is most likely gray now…mine is.

A French poet once asked: “Where are the snows of yesterday?”

But, I’m wondering where are the sparks, the lighter-than-air embers that gave us all dreams and hopes and fears?

I’m sitting on the dock.  It’s dark now…the skies are filled with a zillion points of light…like white sparks.  I pray that my friends see these stars and feel the memories fall down on them like rain, like snow or like sparks from the bonfires of yesterday.


I’m ready to make the climb the hill to our cottage.  I walk away from the dock and something hits me in the face.  It’s a maple leaf.  I think of the autumn again and something occurs to me.  Our memories, our personal legends, don’t have to be hot sparks…they can be a falling leaf, a falling snowflake, a raindrop, a photograph or a cloud.  It can be anything that once happened to us…or anything we’ve seen in our past.  These can bring on the memories of our lives.  My childhood friends can watch the Susquehanna flow under a bridge, see something in a window of an antique store, a book, a poem, a song…any relic of our past and the days can be relived, in detail, for even a moment.  The real beauty of all this opportunity to connect with a fable or a story is that it can happen anywhere.  My friends are scattered around the world.  A girl (woman now) lives on a farm in Oregon.  Someone else in Florida.  Someone in  Texas, Maine or Paris.

But, for me, it’s a campfire just steps from our house that opens those dusty doors.

And, it happens on a night just like this one…