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McCallum: Looking Up

07/05/12 5:55PM By Mary McCallum
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(Host) When educator, writer and commentator Mary McCallum recently attacked some yard work, she gained new insight into the importance of looking up.

(McCallum) It was a solidly built nest in the crook of the crabapple tree off the back porch. I’d passed beneath it with the power mower several times before I glanced up and saw it; yet the deafening roar hadn’t scared off the robin couple who had set up housekeeping. I watched the female and her dapper looking husband fly back and forth, alighting in the branches among the dark leaves as they constructed the cupped nest of sturdy twigs and grasses.

I took up the habit of sitting on the porch in late afternoon and early evening, reveling in the dappled sunlight, the rustling pines, and the comforting gurgle of the backyard brook. In an old wicker rocker I read, sipped chilled wine and daydreamed. But mostly I watched the nest. When guests came, we listened for the call that sounded like cheer-up, cheer-up as the female landed on the rim of the nest and poked her head in. One early evening, a friend and I climbed through my second-floor bedroom window and stood silently on the porch roof with binoculars for a true birds-eye view of what Mom was doing.

While I’ve never been a follower of the mysterious lives of birds, that first glimpse of a bobbling fuzzy head that resembled a tiny wizened old man made me nearly lose my footing on the roof. Each time Mom left the nest to go food shopping I gazed at the crook of the tree until she returned with the groceries. The sight of four pointy yellow beaks gaping wide for the meal took my breath away.

When chilly rains came, I was moved by the mother’s single-minded dedication to protect her gang of four by becoming their umbrella. From inside my dry, well-lit home I watched rain and wind batter the apple tree while she stoically spread her wings to shelter the entire nest. She was a living feathered canopy, rocking with the high branches, taking the brunt of what nature poured out of the sky all that night. While the downpour pounded a skylight in my bedroom, I heard the wind rise and fall and had difficulty falling asleep for worry about my avian neighbors.

At dawn, a slow drizzle fell on a yard littered with broken branches and sizable tree limbs. In the early light I peered through binoculars and saw the drenched robin still at her post. Then suddenly she was in the garden. Then skittering across the wet lawn with a morsel, chirping her call. When she landed on the nest I was rewarded by the sight of all four waggling baldy heads reaching up, mouths wide open.

Because I looked up one day I saw a nest, and in that nest I found a story. A writer can’t resist a good story, no matter how tiny the story, or apparently how great the talent. I once came across some lines penned by Emily Dickinson in a letter to a friend around 1885 about her love of birds. She wrote, It is economical. It saves going to heaven. And I couldn’t agree more.
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