They say that the first few years of your life are formative ones – molding and shaping and setting the stage for who you will become. Interestingly, my clearest memories are from this time in my life. They are imprinted on my being – whispers of my past that ceaselessly live on in my mind, and tug gently on me through my journey in life.
One of the common threads, if not THE common thread throughout these early memories, is a complete and pure appreciation of the natural world. Even in my youngest years, I relished the red buds of the maple scattered across the ground in April, the sheer joy of exploring the stream behind our house, the delight of wriggling earthworms in the garden, the curious hush of snow in the winter, the miracle of apples right off the tree, the soft padding of my feet on a bed of pine needles.
As a young nature enthusiast, I was eager to share my passion with my little friends. One time I had my friend Alyssa Nathanson over. I was four at the time, and thought it would be a terrific idea to make our own bird’s nest. I’ve always been fascinated with nests, and at that tender age, I longed to have one of my own. So, I found a jar of Elmer’s paste (the kind with the stick applicator, not the squeeze bottle), and we set out to find some appropriate nesting material. I guess we weren’t that creative with our search, because all we wound up with was a few handfuls of white pine needles. We tried futilely to paste them together into a nest, but clearly, we lacked the skills inherent in our feathered friends. (On a side note, I also attempted to blame Alyssa for my first experimental attempts at cutting my own hair, but I ultimately paid for the lie by having my mouth washed out with soap.)
At any rate, now it’s thirty plus years later, and I’m still as fascinated with nests as I was then. I have quite a few that I have found on the ground over the years, and I marvel at how unique they each are – the different materials used, and the size and shape of each one.
Just a couple of days ago, I was laying out in my hammock when I spotted two pheobes building a nest under the eve of our house. I watched as one pheobe flew back and forth collecting material (while the other one stood guard). To and fro she fluttered, carrying bits of grass and moss in her beak each time, expertly arranging it in a way that is nothing short of a work of art.
Oddly, while I was at work today, I came across a robin’s delicate blue egg shell on the ground. I wondered hopefully if the shell had fallen away after the baby bird had hatched, but upon closer inspection, I saw two more eggshells on the ground nearby. One of the eggs, though cracked, still had the embryo inside. I carefully pulled it apart, examining the tiny mass inside – a sort of amorphous pouch of yellow and grey enclosed in a bloody sac. I looked up into the feathery leaves of a locust tree, and alas, saw a nest hanging rather precariously from a branch. I took a few steps back and saw one last egg (fully intact) abandoned in the nest.
What happened here? Was it a predator? If so, why didn’t it eat all the eggs? Perhaps the nest got knocked out of place by the wind? Did the mother mourn the loss of her young ones? Did she build another nest and lay more eggs? So many questions flooded my mind that I’ll likely never know the answer to. And so it goes with the wonders of nature.
As for myself, I suppose I’ve developed my own nesting instinct. To be totally honest, part of me thinks that I’m just trying to recreate the magic of those first years of my life. I’m not going to pretend that those years were all good by any means, but those first experiences in nature have been a monumental force in my life. So, now I have a home where I play with earthworms in the garden, swing in the hammock beneath the white pines, savor the red tips of the maples in the spring, rejoice in the fragrance of the sweet fern, and bask in the blossoms of the mountain laurel. In short, I’ve got a great life and a wonderful nest.