Saturday, June 28, 2008


We are surrounded by birds. Hummingbirds, finches, orioles, swallows, crows, woodpeckers, chickadees, mockingbirds, ravens, hawks, bobolinks, catbirds, phoebes. The phoebes built a mud and straw nest in the barn three years ago, and have returned every summer to raise their brood here. The first babies have flown, and now the parents will lay eggs for a second family. Last summer, one of the baby birds was sickly, and the mother pushed it out of the nest, its short life ending on the dirt floor of the barn. Evolution is without mercy.

Several years ago, my parents gave us a small birdhouse, painted white with a gray roof, for our anniversary, and we secured it on a post in the perennial garden. The blue-backed swallows have made their home there and are now feeding three young birds through the small hole that acts as front door. The swallows no longer dive down close over our heads to warn us away. They have become easy about our prescence, and of a morning, I stand close to the house watching their rituals.

The golden finches land in the apple trees looking brilliant during blossoming, and satisfied as the red-green fruit grows. Their song is sweet and somehow innocent, even though the natural world lives by gimlet law. The oriole shows off his orange back and has a fondness for the cherry trees. He plays with the other orioles, dipping and soaring from tree to tree, coming close to where we are in the garden, brazen and proud.

We have taken to calling this our English summer. The weather has been gray and misty, the gardens looking abundant and slightly wild. Caleb’s young cousin Claire is visiting—helping us with the gardens for the summer and fall. In November, we’ll take her to Italy to apprentice with a friend opening a new restaurant on Lago di Maggiore. She is eighteen and pink-cheeked, and we all feel as if we’ve stepped into a Jane Austen novel. I’ve started to sign e-mails, our modern letters--from Finch House--tongue firmly in cheek. We are only lacking a stand in for the requisite Mr. Darcy. But the summer is young yet.

The birds fly about us. On days that we leave the doors open, swallows might swoop in and out of spaces that no longer exist between inside and outside. Once, a hummingbird found himself lost against a dining room window, and he allowed Caleb to scoop him up in his hands, and take him on the balcony. He rested for a moment, his tiny claws digging into skin and muscle, the thousand jeweled colors on his necklace of feathers catching the sunlight before taking off into a breathless blue sky.


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