Straw Flowers

Straw Flowers
"Straw Flowers" by L. Folk

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Persistence of Mrs. Finch

And still Mrs. Finch has not returned to her nest.

About a month ago, a Mr. Finch and his partner Mrs. Finch were scouting out a nesting area. They were fluttering about a downspout at the northeast corner of our roof; this had us concerned. But the couple resigned to the top of a column supporting our side porch roof, therefore bypassing a clogged spout and a drowned brood. Unfortunately this was the same exact spot a sparrow, let's call him Jerry, used to roost at night in the late fall and early winter. I would come home after an evening away and see him up there with his eyes closed. It was sort of strange to see a bird sleeping; we know them as the antithesis of this--singing harbingers of the waking world. So Jerry had his roost at the column top (there's probably some architectural term I should be using here, but I am too lazy to look it up) but abandoned it come spring and the Finches moved in.

Mrs. Finch began to build her nest and Mr. Finch serenaded her with his sweet trills. As I was making lunch or dinner, I would hear his delightful song and every once and a while catch a glimpse of him with his jewel-red head and throat. House finches they are called, and the male is stunning with his scarlet color, the female a slender brown bird with black eyes. They originated from Mexico and the Western US and were introduced to the East, specifically Long Island, as cage birds, but this failed. They were released into "the wild" sometime in the 1940s and multiplied quickly; today they are numbered, nationwide, in the billions.

So Mrs. Finch gathered dainty twigs and stalks of grass and wove them together with her beak. I watched her do it, her butt high in the air like a duck in a pond. She tucked and primped and made it all just so. We decided to close down the porch once again, despite it being closed most of the winter due to ice dams and snow mounds. This was inconvenient, especially since we were looking forward to using the deck, the side door and porch being the easiest access. Mrs. Finch and her babies were a priority, much to the dismay of my husband, and we honored her nesting and let her be for the most part.

She was very astute and nervous as it were, always aware of me when I was stealing a glimpse and flying off if she sensed an intrusion, which there were, of course, intrusions, due to my husband breaking our pact and grumbling about the damn bird. I must confess, I felt anxious and caught between my husband who had every right to access his back deck in the most convenient manner and Mrs. Finch who was now sitting in the nest and atop her babies that needed her warmth to properly mature. We did have a few visitors who came to the side door, due to my being lax about roping it off, and this sent Mrs. Finch off in a tizzy each time.

Truth be known, I had every intention of roping off the porch one particularly fateful day, but when I returned home from a pressing engagement found the carnage: two blue eggs smashed on the deck. There were fragments of the nest everywhere as well as feathers and a smattering of bird poop. It was a crime scene.

Later that day, Mrs. Finch returned to try and rebuild the nest and there was Jerry alongside her (or some sparrow that strikingly resembled Jerry) trying to destroy it. So as Mrs. Finch was frantically rebuilding, Jerry was frantically destroying and protesting in loud, sharp chirps. Mr. Finch was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, Jerry succeeded in completely dismantling the nest; wisps of it floated hither and thither all over the deck and side porch. Then both birds disappeared and we saw neither one for about a week. Richard washed the deck and we presumed that was that.

But not a week later, Mrs. Finch returned again to build another nest. And once again Mr. Finch cheered her on with his tender trills.

I found this to be particularly perplexing. Mrs. Finch had already laid her eggs; could it be she had more? Can birds manufacture another brood that fast? Or was she just delusional? I admired her persistence, and I thought of myself and how, with every failed fertilization attempt, it was back to the drawing board. It never occurred to me to give up. It's an innate thing, perhaps a female thing, a faith, that the good in life, the joy, the successes are all worth the effort of having a brood. Or is it the innate compulsion that life must go on at all costs? There's also the larger than oneself factor: the progeny part and the extension of the self through children. We're only here for a short time and it's somehow comforting to know we will live on in others. Was this what Mrs. Finch was thinking?

So Mrs. Finch built the entire nest again and Jerry never showed up again; I wondered if perhaps the Finches hired a hawk or raven to whack him. And then Mrs. Finch suddenly disappeared after the nest was completed. I watch for her every day and every day she does not come and the nest is up there, constructed but empty, like an empty womb, and I must once again embrace the unknowable.


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