Nature can be both soothing and instructive. I am working from home and using the back porch as my office. It’s peaceful. I can work and still enjoy the antics of local creatures. Birds, anoles, snakes, butterflies, squirrels, and tortoises are frequent visitors.
A mourning dove sits on her nest in a palm tree, nearly invisible to the casual onlooker. The nest is little more than some fluff tucked in the “boots” of a scruffy cabbage palm. I hear the dissonant sound of a crow approaching; and watch as the mourning dove slips soundlessly backwards—off the nest and out of the tree. The nest is defenseless. I leap up to chase the crow from the yard, flicking a bark chip up to the perch where it sits above the unprotected nest. Twice more I defend the nest as the mother slips quietly away. Finally, I allow nature to take its course. The crow flies off with eggs for lunch.
The next day, I see the mourning dove create another haphazard nest in a palm across the yard. Several days later, this one, too, is abandoned.
The bluebirds have a better location. They have a house designed specifically for them. Even so, they were quite particular in choosing it—spending several days deciding whether it was a good home. It’s high in a cedar tree with branches to shade it, but not close enough to offer access.
Today, a squirrel begins to scramble up the trunk of the cedar. The house is full of cheeping birds that have not yet learned to fly. I watch with interest as the mother bird calls out an alarm. The male swiftly approaches from another yard. Together, they fearlessly fly into the path of the squirrel. The squirrel jumps to the ground and the bluebirds seem to dazzle his senses, tumbling through the air in a chaotic, yet coordinated attack pattern. The squirrel retreats.
Several days later, the bluebirds have successfully flown, and their house is empty, as is mine. I ponder the nature of nature, and of parenting.
In the evening, we eat dinner on the porch. “Can you believe what crappy parents mourning doves are?” I ask my husband. “The male never shows up to help and the female disappears at the first hint of trouble,” I continue. My husband, not a fan of birds in the family that includes pigeons, agrees that it’s much nicer to cultivate bluebirds in our yard. Inwardly, I compare myself (favorably) with the protective bluebird mother.
Several weeks later, I am working when I hear a faint cheeping. There is a small mourning dove on the bricks of my patio. It seems disoriented, cheeping and looking around. “Well, that lazy mourning dove mom finally had a chick and she abandoned it,” I grouse to myself. The baby dove continues its cheeping and I wonder if I may be raising that dove myself. But a minute later, I hear a soft cooing from the roof edge above me. The cooing continues in an urging manner, but the baby dove remains on the patio, bewildered. I hear a scrabbling on the gutter, and then the mother mourning dove descends with a slight rustle to the patio. She walks to the chick and stops, her back facing the bird. She strides confidently away without a glance backward. The chick instinctively follows close behind, and it suddenly occurs to me that parenting is a different journey for each of us. Some parent with intensity; others with perseverance. We all do what we are able. I look at the mourning dove and her baby with newfound appreciation as together, they walk into safe haven, disappearing under the expansive leaves of a large philodendron.
Lisa Taylor is an academic librarian and freelance writer with wide-ranging interests. Lisa’s stories, poems, reviews, and articles have appeared in print and online anthologies, journals, databases, and newsletters. Her book reviews appear regularly in AudioFile Magazine. She makes her home in Florida, the land of flowers, where it’s harder to stop something from growing than to start it. You can find her on Twitter @lrt_writes