Lesson From a Wren, Fledging

Lesson From A Wren, Fledging

        When the black snake ate the baby bluebirds in their protected home with baffle and wire caging, I despaired and wondered, “What hope have the tiny wrens, unprotected in their propane home?” I wrote them off as snake fodder. And yet I loved this feisty little wren who seemed so fearless and who'd been in my home several times. It was not the first nest I'd found carefully (or messily) constructed under the lid atop the propane tank.

        I have three black snakes on the property of which I'm aware. One is old and over six feet long. I swear this one is tame. Ever since he shed his skin in an old yogurt container under my sink over ten years ago, he and I have shared a bond. I see him reappear each year and welcome him—although I believe now that he is actually a she. When she slithered next to the propane tank, I casually walked over and said, “Uh-uh, not going to hurt the babies.” And I didn't see her again. But it's a different story with her offspring: one very thick snake, the one I found coiled in the bluebird box, and one delicate thin one who is fond of coming into the laundry room.

         So that when the mother wren built her nest in the propane tank, I held little hope. And yet, each day, peeking in on first the eggs then later four tiny nestlings, I'd see they were still alive. I could stand in the kitchen and through the open window feel the breeze blowing in and hear the peep-peep-peeping of the hungry nestlings calling to their mother. But if I could her them, so too could the black snakes, and what's more, they could smell them. Each day I prayed the babies would fledge, but I knew they were still too young. Each day, try though I did to have more positive thoughts, I knew I was expecting them to succumb to a snake.

        I put up orange fencing when I heard this could keep snakes out. How on earth, I had no idea, as it looked to me like a perfect snake ladder offering up a way to an easy meal. I worried the mother wouldn't be able to fly in, or that it might scare her, or keep her babies from flying out—if ever they did fledge, that is.

        Then one day she was more talkative than ever, flying from branch to branch around the tank, and back and forth through the orange fencing. And on that day, I peered in discreetly and saw one of her brood upon the nest, not inside it.

        “They're going to fledge!” I said to Isabelle, lying under the picnic table. Maybe the snakes wouldn't get them, after all; maybe they were going to make it, despite the odds. Evening came and momma chatty as ever, flying from branch to tank and back again. But when I went to bed, they had not fledged. The next day I checked, still there, and in my house I could hear them peeping away. If ever they stopped, I too stopped still, nervous their end had come all too swiftly.

        It was late afternoon, when I saw them one, two, and three fly from the nest, in valiant flutters and flops. I watched in awe, filled with joy and caught up in the miracle that is nature at her best. Then I remembered there had been four, not three. I lifted the lid, and there left behind was the fourth. I shut the lid quickly in despair.

        My mind said, “Leave them alone; let nature do her thing.” My heart said, “Help them where you can.” My mind told me not to pick up the fourth baby and carry him to his mother. I obeyed my mind. But my heart nudged again, and as I once lifted the lid, I stepped closer. The baby, obviously terrified of me, hopped to the edge.

        And fledged.

        Yet he was a great distance from his mother and siblings. He took cover in the yarrow, a favorite hiding place of the snakes. I routed around a bit, but couldn't find him, and I knew then I had to let nature be. It wouldn't serve to interfere any more. As I turned around, out hopped the baby, flapping tiny new wings and wobbling unsteadily down my lawn in the direction of his mother.

         “Peep, peep, peep, peep.”

        I listened as she in turn called back to him, and I watched her fly from a small tree down to the ground, and urge him along. Tears of gratitude and joy filled my eyes. All four had fledged and they were out there on a beautiful breezy day. How tender and fragile they seemed out on their own—but I had to trust the world of nature.

        Later that day, one of the smaller black snakes returned. I stood and watched him, thinking how odd it was he showed up after the wrens had flown. How easily the snake could have gotten to them any day during their incubation.

        I suppose we all fledge at some point, and sometimes many times: a child leaves the nest for college. He leaves college for the real world. He may move to new continents, whether physically or psychologically. And ultimately, when the time comes, we step off the from our bodies and comforting propane tanks into death and the unknown.

        When I stand back and watch, everything is perfect.

        Postscript:

        As I recount this story only a few weeks later, outside my window, the industrious wrens are at it again, building with gusto a new nest on the sill. First the female, adding a soft and luxurious piece of moss then the male adding a big oak leaf for solidity and structure. And so it goes…. I wish I were small enough to enter their beautiful moss-coated home.