Smell the Roses And Watch the Robins
By PETER FENN
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I love spring, and especially the beginning of summer. Who doesn’t?
The steady cascade of color from flowers and trees, the leaves filling in the privacy for backyard barbecues, the advent of wildlife coming alive and the sounds of birds chirping and wind whistling. The warmth of the sun and the anticipation of family vacations and time off have to put a smile on anyone’s face.
As I get older, each coming of spring is more precious. This year maybe more than most. There have been milestones. A father, still vigorous and working, turned 90. Our two children, grown, and getting married to wonderful people this spring and this summer. Alison, my wife, is ten years cancer-free.
So it was that this year, we noticed the building of a nest by robins right by our back porch. We have seen nests before, at our little cabin in the woods in Pennsylvania and in Washington. But this year we watched it all unfold right on the ledge of our picture window.
It started, as it always does, with a mama bird bringing grass and twigs and crafting her home. Shielded from the wind and rain, it gradually took shape over a few days. Careful, consistent, predictable.
Then, we thought, let’s take the trash out the front door; let’s take the dog out on the street, not the back yard; let’s put off the barbecuing for a while. Let’s not do it under her nose. Let’s sacrifice just a little and not disturb her. Let’s give her some space, as best we can.
And let’s just watch through that big picture window.
And watch we did over the last two and a half weeks.
Then I read up on birds and birth. I am basically a Washington city boy and not that wise on the ways of the world, certainly not nature.
I found that robins lay just four eggs usually, one a day. And it is not easy. It takes a lot out of a mama robin, as the birth process does for females of all species. The mama bird will sit on those eggs for 12-14 days. Robins usually only leave the nest for five to 10 minutes at a time once the eggs are laid.
The mama bird will rotate the eggs several times a day, keeping the right warmth, using her wings and her 104 degree body temperature to adjust for the weather outside.
It is all a very precise process, but it is all instinctual; it is all natural. It really is quite loving.
The papa bird will be nearby, will hang out, help gather food and respond to any alarm call. He’ll watch over them during the whole two weeks. He will sit on the eggs, too, when needed, keeping them covered and warm.
The chicks will break out, pushing through the shell, one bird each day, taking almost the entire day to emerge. It isn’t easy; it takes time and once they are free they need to be fed by the mama and papa birds all the time.
So, we have found over these last two weeks that we have taken great joy in checking in on our little nest, their little home. We even had a shower for our future daughter-in-law with thirty of her “girl” friends, in the living room as mama bird looked down, unconcerned about the celebration below.
To watch this miracle outside our window, we know how blessed we are with our miracles, with our children’s miracles and the joys that come with spring and summer.
We know that the process of a robin giving life, while we only had a vague sense about all these years, is something quite remarkable, yet quite ordinary. But it doesn’t strike you as so important until you see it up close and read about just how incredible it all is.
Maybe we all need to watch the robins and listen to the birds and smell the flowers just a bit more. Maybe those of us in political battle should spend a little more time on the miracles, and a little less on the mundane. Maybe the simple things in life need just a little more attention. Maybe, just maybe, we all would be a bit better for it.