This morning, I slept late enough to roll out of bed with purpose, shower quickly, and turn on the coffeemaker in the kitchen before delving into some last-minute copyediting. The picture window over my kitchen sink looks out at a steep hillside, where butterflies, hummingbirds, groundhogs, deer, dragonflies, squirrels, spiders, moths, raccoons, snakes, and the neighbor’s cats pass by all day and night. I started to calculate how many buckets of earth still needed to be removed to prepare the foundation of the tiny patio I’m installing this summer. From the corner of my eye, I saw a Carolina wren huddled near the steps leading up to the excavation. The little brown bird didn’t fly away. It didn’t even move when I peered out at it.
Deep in a container of Cape Primrose hanging beside the front door of the house, a wren had built a nest sheltered under the eaves. I thought the mother bird might be the injured one, unable to return to her nest.
From the laundry room, I could see the unmoving wren from another angle. Its feathers were ruffled. It was trying to look as intimidating as possible, because it couldn’t fly and was vulnerable on the hill. My watching made it skittish, so it spread its wings against the flagstone and moved itself on sprawling, nearly useless legs until it was out of my sightline.
I called David, poured some milk in my coffee, pulled on a jacket, and hurried around to the back of the house before the cats decided to blog about it.
The wren collected itself and wobbled bravely under the potting bench, which seemed to be an even more dangerous predicament. I set to pulling weeds while I waited for David to come down the hill, hoping the cats would stay away from me long enough for the bird to recover and fly away.
When David arrived, carrying a wicker picnic basket, he moved the bench and scooped up the injured bird with my gardening gloves. The feeble little wren panicked and screamed. David put it in the picnic basket, closed the lid, and carried the basket to the front porch. We could see the nesting wren, still quietly protecting its eggs in the flowers under the roof, and were glad it was safe.
Helplessly, another wren landed on a maple branch near the picnic basket and cried out, its breast throbbing violently. We didn’t know what to do to save the injured one.
On Independence Day, Joy Gough had told us that birds whose legs won’t work right are the ones that die. We had talked about hanging light catchers in the window and discussed which types worked best. Three stained glass ornaments were tucked away in a drawer. I didn’t hang them in the kitchen window after I moved to this house, because I liked the unobstructed view of my hill.
When I was two years old, according to family legend, I memorized this Mother Goose nursery rhyme:
Once I saw a little bird
Come hop, hop, hop
So I cried, “Little bird,
Will you stop, stop, stop?”
And was going to the window
To say, “How do you do?”
But he shook his little tail,
And far away he flew.
We failed to save the wren.
I hung the light catchers in the picture window.