Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Empty Nest

One of the advantages of being self-employed and working close to home is that I can usually schedule lunch at home. This is particularly advantageous in July when I can catch the finish of the daily stage of the Tour de France en vivo. Another bonus is that I can keep an eye on the robins nesting on top of the floodlights on the side of our garage.

I am quite certain this is the same pair I wrote about on June 7th. They were nesting on top of a nest box on the side of the shed and two or three babies fledged on June 6th. I was surprised to see them building a new nest only two or three days later about 10 yards away on the side of the garage. I never saw the little ones again. This new nest is in a great spot for watching since it is clearly visible from the kitchen and deck. I have to walk past it several times a day on my way to the shed or backyard. My casual interest became a little more focused in the past few days as I noticed the three little robins straining higher when the parents arrived with one of their regular deliveries of worms, and I started seeing them flapping their little wings, no doubt exercising them for what would soon be their big moment. It has been just about five weeks since nest building began, and I was sure they would be leaving the nest any day now, and I was hoping to see it. Little did I know.

They didn’t fledge at lunch time, or in the mid-afternoon when I stopped home to pick up a ladder, but when I got home at about 6:00 in the evening I quickly noticed that only two heads were peeking over the rim of the nest. Since I conveniently happened to be returning the step ladder to the shed I approached the nest and stood on the ladder to make sure one baby was missing. As soon as my head was within a couple of feet of the nest, the remaining two youngsters practically exploded in my face, launching themselves across the yard as the parents suddenly appeared and began chirping angrily and flying at me. I quickly put the ladder away and started looking for the fledglings, feeling a little guilty that I may have prompted a premature departure. I eventually found one quietly sitting in a shrub. I tried to photograph it, and then decided the best thing I could do was leave the area and let the parents locate and tend to their wayward trio.

I had the rest of the evening to myself. During the school year, I spend many evenings alone. Our daughter is living and working on the west coast. Our son is in college. My wife works or has meetings a few nights a week. I like the quiet time to do some slow cooking, go for a run, do a little reading, do a few things around the house, or – on a weak night – surf channels or the web. It's also a good time to think about where I came from, where I've been and where I'm going. Even though it’s summer, tonight was like that with my wife at a meeting and our son - home for the summer - staying in the city after work to meet a friend. I decided to make my solitude complete by packing a light meal and biking up to Moose Hill for dinner.

I rode to a new spot for me. I found a paved but gated road that allowed me to bike away from the main thoroughfare and quickly be alone in a nice stand of second-growth oaks and hickory. I parked the bike and found a nice rock that afforded a view down the hill and through the woods. It was warm and quiet and everything was soft and green after yet another day of rain. I came prepared for mosquitoes with long pants, long sleeves, bug spray and a hat with a bandana tucked underneath to protect my neck and ears.

I had a great view through the woods and I realized that was because there was almost no leafy vegetation from the forest floor up to a height of about five feet. The whitetail deer population is booming around here and in many places a clear browse line is visible where the deer have eaten all the twigs they can reach. It’s a good thing no one tries to manage any forests around here, because deer would make regeneration almost impossible.

Other than enjoying an hour of quiet and solitude, it was a pretty uneventful evening. Sitting quietly on my rock, I thought I had a good chance to see a deer or turkey coming up the hill, but it was not to be. I caught a glimpse of a hairy woodpecker and saw a couple of robins. I think of robins as regulars around the yard and on the roadside, but they often surprise me in the forest. I heard a nuthatch, and a couple of wood thrush were singing just out of sight down the hill.

I’ve written about the wood thrush a couple of times before. There’s something about his song that captivates me, like a piper calling from the wilderness. As much as I love his flute-like melody it also makes me a little sad. I associate the song with the evening. I seem to notice the sweet but somehow melancholy tune just before the sun goes down and the day is over. It’s as if this pretty little bird has come to remind me that time is passing by and another chapter is finished. The nest is empty, both for the robins and for me.

We are blessed in that both our kids are doing very well. We are very proud of them and, while we try to continue our support as much as possible, we are optimistic that they are both on their way to happily independent lives. Sending the fledglings off is a big milestone. For many years now – just about half of my life – my identity has been largely defined as husband and father. It has been all too easy to forget who I was and what I wanted to be. Now, we are beginning a new chapter and it might be time to renegotiate some contracts. I’m not anticipating any major reinventions but, rather, I'm hoping for a chance to focus more on a few good friendships and one great marriage. I also want to remember the dreams of my youth, and before this book is done, I want to make a few of them come true.

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At 10:48 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

We are watching a Tree Swallow getting the babies ready to leave the nest. We thought they had fledged already, but they absolutely have not! What a surprise. We've noticed that a Cooper's Hawk has its eye on the nest-box. So far the babies have been very smart about going away from the nest-box opening when the hawk has been on the hunt. But it occurred to me tonight how vulnerable the Tree Swallow mother is when she is perched on the opening feeding the babies. We will breathe a sigh of relief when that nest is empty and the babies have successfully fledged.

At 12:36 AM, Blogger lené said...

Sounds like a beautiful evening--one of reflection and of hope. Thanks for sharing it with us.

By the way, I really enjoyed the Burroughs piece. Thanks, again. :)


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