In My Head/Heart, In the Garden, In the Outdoors

The Wren

I haven’t written in a very long while.  Life sometimes gets in the way and often those things that we love have to be relegated to back burners.  Such is my story.

But, mine is also a story of getting back up and finding my way back to the things that make me happy and feed my soul.  Writing is one of those, woven deeply into who I am and always in my thoughts.

And so, I write – again – hopeful that my journey will allow me to continue as planned, but mindful of the challenges often placed in our path as we travel.  This is a tale of my own.

We have a wren!  Well, actually, we have several.

I LOVE wrens! 

They are spunky, sassy little birds with an incessant need to “chatter.”  And, chatter they do – loudly and at the break of dawn.  They sit on our porch rails, fly in and out of our wood shop, perch on our chairs, and cling to our window screens, all the while letting us know they are there by way of their unique “tea-ket-tle, tea-ket-tle, tea-ket-tle” song or their vocal alarm that sounds very much like two sandpaper blocks being rubbed together.

I find them to be fearless and funny and absolutely adorable with their chubby little bodies and tiny upturned tails.  They are rarely still and move with purpose, bossing us and each other around.  This year, however, I also saw in them something that gave me reason to pause and think about a lesson they had to offer.

With the break of cold weather last Spring, we had a mess to deal with.  If you have followed me in the past, you’ll recall the “deer incident” we experienced two years ago.  Because we had so much interior work to deal with, our yard and overall property was severely neglected.  There is only so much time in a day and priority had to be given to our living spaces.  That said, our yard was an utter disaster!  Gardens were beyond overgrown, cast off building materials were stacked here and there and our brick patio tucked under the back deck was piled high with STUFF.  In short, a mess!

We started with the area under the deck and very quickly realized that the wrens had built a nest there – in a small plastic tote turned on its side not a foot and a half from the back door. (which we had need to pass through multiple times each day)

At first there was a great commotion and startling from both the sitting wren and us when the door would open, but pretty soon we learned to go easy as we passed through and whichever wren was on nesting duty would stay put.  There were three eggs in there and I’ve never seen such faithful parents – sharing guard duty and bringing food to one another constantly. 

Because it was somewhere around a gazillion degrees outside, we would flop in the shade under the deck to take a break from working, which meant we were, quite literally, right on top of the little wren nursery.  For most birds, the close proximity of humans would be an issue.  Not so, the wrens.  They would swoop and scold and then they’d begin their (assumed) stealth approach that included starting at the end of the deck and steadily hopping from one item to the next, inching closer and closer.  With a final scoot, into the tote he (or she) would go.  A quick changing of the guard and out would come the other.  This would continue all day long.

After about a week, we noticed that there wasn’t any activity.  A quick glance with a mirror showed that the eggs were still there, but in disarray – two having been knocked out of the nest and down into the tote.  We came to the conclusion that our resident catbird, that is just about as brazen as the wrens and is known for disrupting nests, probably did the deed.  It was sad and I always feel a twinge for the parents, but that is nature and it is sometimes brutal.

A week or two later, I was startled by presumably the same wren that came shooting out of an old potato basket we had out there, located not two feet from the plastic tote and only about a foot off the ground.  A peek inside revealed a tidy nest and four new eggs.  Good grief!  While attentive parents, they are severely lacking in their choices of real estate!  We have raccoons, possum, and feral cats, not to mention their new home was directly in our path to and from the shop.

And so, our vigil began again — us working around them and them living around us, squawking and scolding each at the other.  It worked for a while, but this time, like the last, was not to produce the hoped for ending.  An errant basketball crashed into the basket and the eggs were destroyed.  I felt so much worse this time because it happened as a result of something we had done.  It was truly accidental, but our fault just the same and now they had lost their babies twice in a matter of weeks.

The wrens stayed around.  I watched them and wondered if they felt loss, if they were just instinct driven or if there was more — anything different in their behavior.  It surprised me to see the female examining an old dilapidated birdhouse out on the fence row.  The half-rotted thing was barely hanging on and, in fact, had no bottom so nothing could nest there anyway.  After I noticed her returning repeatedly to check it out, I decided to give it a quick facelift.  A new floor and slate roof tile made a tidy new home and back on the fence it went.  Imagine my delight when she appeared to move right in within one hour of my having put it back up, carrying sticks and grasses inside.  At least she could start again in a safe place and maybe this time she would be successful.

A few days later, we decided to use some scrap wood and build an identical birdhouse for the other end of the fence.  It was only a tiny bit smaller, but wrens prefer houses with a tiny entrance hole and we thought that perhaps a second wren would build there in time.  It would prove to be a mistake.

The original wren became confused.  After spending time and energy on building in the first house, she suddenly began showing an interest in the second located about eight feet away.  In fact, she began building in the smaller house while still flying in and out of the first.  In the end, it was apparently too much for her to process and both houses were abandoned.  A third chance at raising a family – gone.

I don’t know if she tried again.  If so, I didn’t see her build, but she never left.  She continued to do what she needed to do day in and day out despite the setbacks and the loss and I couldn’t help but admire the tenacity and perseverance exhibited by this tiny creature.

Wrens stay the winter where we are and so we’re able to enjoy their sassy little selves year-round.  Even when the snow is deep, they appear at our feeders with the full intent of bossing the other songbirds around, while waking us at the crack of dawn.  And, they do.  They’re so much fun to watch because they are in perpetual motion, almost impossible to photograph, definitely in charge, and always providing a reason to smile.  Presumably, they haven’t the time, nor the inclination to do otherwise.

This morning, I caught myself staring mindlessly out my kitchen window feeling overwhelmed, a bit lost, and, if I were to be honest, downright sorry for myself when I was startled by the sudden appearance of a plump little fluff ball with an upturned tail upon my sill.  Only the window separated us so we were definitely aware of one another.  I would like to say that we stared deep into one another’s eyes and had this spiritual moment of connection, but that would be far from the truth, because wrens are never still long enough for that kind of nonsense.  Instead this one did exactly what I have seen it do to other birds.  Only this time, it was directed at me…

This little creature jumped from sill to screen to window box and back again, over and over, rarely pausing, tail twitching — all the while giving me a thorough “what for” by way of its impassioned, persistent, sand-papery scolding.  My little friend was obviously displeased and apparently the subject of said displeasure was me!

I couldn’t help but smile.  It was all so silly, but it got me to thinking too.  There I stood feeling sorry for myself, fretting over “things” while being thoroughly admonished by a minute ball of feathers with a Herculean-sized attitude.  It was funny to see and I couldn’t help but relate it to what I was feeling in the moment.

I think if this little warrior had been able to speak in words that I could understand, it may have sounded something like this…

“Knock it off!  Do you know how blessed you are?  Life happens – to all of us – and sometimes it hurts.  A lot!  We experience loss, pain, want, grief, anger, confusion, frustration, exhaustion, and a hundred other negative emotions.  It’s a given.  But, we also are able to feel love, hope, happiness, laughter, promise, peace, purpose, and unspeakable joy.  You have to choose in which emotion you want to nest yourself.  Find your purpose.  Put one foot in front of the other – every day – season after season.  Choose joy and sing it out loud.  Use the gifts that God has given to you for good.  If I, one of His smallest creatures can keep on keeping on, so can you.  There is work to be done and we are called to do it. Pick up that pen and start again!”

I have, of course, no idea what my little friend was actually saying during that scathing admonishment, (probably, “the feeder is empty”) but I do believe that messages come to us from all different directions and sources and often just when we need them.  I chose to find a symbolic lesson in self-pity, along with inspiration for starting again — not from a therapist or a book or even a friend, but from one of God’s smallest creations. 

I am picking up my pen.  It is my gift, my purpose, my joy.

And so, I will write – for Jenny Wren – and for me…

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth… Isaiah 43:18-19

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