Mother robin on her nest. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 50: A mother robin

The robin did not return, but we left the nest undisturbed just in case, sorrowful that we were so poorly able to protect her from ourselves.

To read the previous chapters of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

July 15, 2020

On the back of our house under the eave, nestled over the double light that illuminates our patio, a robin made her nest. We discovered the nest on Father’s Day, when she burst from the eave as we sat down for brunch at a table under the light, socially distanced from the rest of the family enjoying their pastries at another table.

We learned that our mother robin was quick to startle. A window in our sunroom overlooks the nest. If we got up too quickly from the dining table, she saw us through the window and bolted from the nest. When we opened the slider onto the patio, she would fly hastily away. She perched in a nearby tree, watching vigilantly. Then she moved closer onto the fence at the edge of the patio, then onto the back of a chair, stopping still at each spot to survey for danger, her eyes bright, her tail flicking up and down, looking in every direction before flying up and over to settle back into the nest.

The robin changed our behavior. We walked slowly in the sunspace, trying not to disturb her on the nest. We might go out a different door or open the slider very, very carefully.

I realize that referring to her as “our” robin is problematic. She did not belong to us, but in her preciousness and vulnerability, we felt a sense of wonder and responsibility that was, well, almost parental.

Far greater than what our solicitude did for her, however, is what she was doing for us. As we pored over the news of a troubling rise in coronavirus cases in the South and West, as we followed with sympathy and worry the protests against racial injustice, we could turn our eyes to the robin on her nest and feel soothed.

The mother robin would be sitting patiently on her nest, gazing toward the trees and forest beyond. She reminded us of the beauty of small things. She was carrying on with life, not in a grand way, but in a simple way, paying attention to what is important: her small blue eggs and the life inside them.

And then she was gone. One morning, as we entered our sunroom with the morning coffee, the nest was empty. We awaited her reappearance, peering carefully out the window so as not to disturb her if she had returned. For days, we thought she might come back to the nest at night, when our movements disappeared and the slider remained closed.

The robin did not return, but we left the nest undisturbed just in case, sorrowful that we were so poorly able to protect her from ourselves. We comforted ourselves that maybe she hadn’t yet laid her eggs and left to find a more suitable spot to raise her brood. We were heartened to learn that robins can raise two to three broods a season.

Memento mori. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

Finally, a few days ago, we decided that we should take down the nest. It was a fire hazard, straw and mud nestled into a light fixture attached to a wooden house. As my husband, Eli, carefully dislodged the nest, two tiny blue eggs rolled out and crashed on the stone patio next to the stepping-stone beneath the slider. We felt a shock of grief at our robin’s loss. Lily sniffed at the liquid contents but did not lap them up. The rain took care of that the next day.

And so they remain, shell shards of the purest sky blue, a memento mori of our robin’s loss and the disruptive power of our presence, and a reminder of how undeniably nature’s forces exceed both our good and our bad intentions.

A Phoebe warming her eggs. Photo: Eli Newberger

Postscript. Today is trash pickup day. As Eli pulled the recycle bin away from the front of the house where it now lives to collect the many boxes from our sequestered deliveries, he noticed that that edge closest to the house was covered with bird droppings. Looking up, there was a nest nestled over the lights beside our front door. And on the nest, eyes bright, sits a Phoebe, warming her eggs.