WHEN LAST WE MET, you and I, the story of the baby birds was fresh and thrilling. There was the discovery of the ground nest, as well as the four tiny Juncos saved from the whir of our unknowing weed eater as we cleared the slope that leads to our mountain home.
Rejoice we did, at the miracle of it all.
And still we worried as darkness fell and temperatures dropped. That nest and those babies were now fully exposed to all manner of night-time terrors, so much so that when we went to bed, we left the blinds open to ensure we were awakened the moment the sun rose. I jumped out of bed and ran to the window to see–one, two, three, four babies! All was well!
Until a little bit later, that is, when Tim passed by the window and laughingly commented:
One of those babies is up so high on the edge of the nest he looks like he’ll fall right out!
And fall he did, not five minutes later.
The landing was soft, with the nest already on the ground. But he was out, and those other three–his brothers and sisters–were in.
And this made me mighty nervous. Even more so when we realized the other three were clamoring for him and hanging on to the very same edge. (There was a great deal of guilt, if I’m telling the truth, as our weed eater had wiped away the side of their nest.) Within the hour, the three were out, as well.
LEST YOU JUDGE ME HARSHLY for this next part of the story, for which I certainly could not blame you, do let me remind you this was all taking place high in the Blue Ridge mountains–a wild country filled with all manner of wild animals, and bears. How that nest had made it undisturbed to this point was a mystery to me. And now those babies were totally exposed and helpless, their tiny wings not yet developed enough to take flight. And so I gathered my nerve and timidly approached my sweet, understanding husband.
Do you think we should try to put them back? I ventured.
No, he said.
IT’S FUNNY the way worry works, making every little thing seem so exaggerated and frantic. Try as I might I couldn’t get a thing done for passing by that window to see who had moved where, how far they had gotten from the nest, how far they were from each other. Were their parents freaking out? Would they try to get them back to the nest? Was that even possible?
The internet gave me some guidelines for ground nester intervention and I deduced from what I read that we would be wise to take a little action. And with some coaxing, Tim finally agreed. We’ll reinforce the nest, he said, then gingerly, oh so gently, lift those babies and put them back where they belong.
ALL WAS WELL for about two seconds, until the last little guy in–who had no doubt been the first little guy out–made a run for it. As I said, he couldn’t fly. But that didn’t hinder his getaway one bit as he jumped from that nest and hopped hopped hopped up that hill like he was being chased by General Sherman.
We gathered him one more time.
One more time, he ran.
Oh Good Lord, is all I could think.
I OBSESSED OVER THAT RUNAWAY all afternoon, following him as he made his way up the slope, across the front walkway, onto the driveway (!!!), then over to the shade of a railroad timber lining its edge. Tucked in and tuckered out, he took his rest and I made my way back to the kitchen, intent on leaving nature be.
But then I happened by a window on the other side of the house and caught a glimpse of the little guy up on that timber, looking all around like he was seeing the world for the very first time.
I grabbed my camera and headed back out, fully expecting him to be so terrorized he’d never let me get close enough for a decent photograph.
Oh, did he surprise me.
THE LITTLE GUY MOVED AROUND a bit, ultimately crossing the driveway to find another tucked-in spot at the base of a crumbling stone wall. To my chagrin he never showed any interest in rejoining his brothers and sisters as his parents followed him from place to place, dutifully providing all the worms and creepy crawlies he could eat. (What an afternoon it was for the two of them, chasing this guy and feeding the remaining three.)
Several times I considered scooping him up and taking him back down the hill, back to his family, to safety. But in the end, I didn’t. Darkness came and I walked away, knowing his fate was not in my hands.
I DIDN’T SEE HIM AGAIN. The following morning the sun rose and the three babies were right where they belonged, safe in the nest, fed at regular intervals by doting, loving parents.
I walked all around in hopes of hearing the telling click click click of the hungry prodigal son, praying I’d hear the Mama or Daddy click click click in return, arriving with a squirming serving of breakfast. But it never happened.
And it was time for us to come home.
We loaded our car and wished the Juncos well. Then we said a prayer for the little one, hoping against hope he was out there in the wilds living strong, living courageous, living free.
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