Wednesday, May 14, 2008


The other day I found the discarded shell of a robin's egg on the sidewalk, exactly the color of the sky at 7:30 this morning. Now the birds are doing more than migrating and singing and resisting my efforts to identify them. They're nesting.

While I was sitting in T&R's Beauty Bar yesterday, waiting for Teresa to finish cutting my older son's hair, I picked up a recent issue of Minnesota Monthly and glanced at an article claiming Louise Erdrich as Minnesota's greatest writer. The only one of Louise Erdrich's books that I've read is her first nonfiction book, The Blue Jay's Dance, a journal of a year of pregnancy, birth, young motherhood, and an eventual return to writing. It's a lovely, quiet, lyrical, earnest book, made additionally poignant and painful by the fact that, two years after the book was published, Erdrich's estranged husband, novelist Michael Dorris, committed suicide. It's a book full of birds, and women, and recipes, and contemplation. What I remember clearest about it is the story Erdrich tells of saving the hair from her daughters' hairbrushes and putting it out in the spring for birds to use as nesting material. At the end of the year, she collected a nest woven of her daughters' hair:

It's almost too painful to hold the nest, too rich, as life often is with children. I see the bird, quick breathing, small, thrilling like a heart. I hear its song, high and clear, beating in its throat. I see that bird alone in the nest woven from the hair of my daughters, and I cannot hold the nest because longing seizes me. Not only do I feel how quickly they are growing from the curved shape of my arms when holding them, but I want to sit in the presence of my own mother so badly I feel my heart will crack.

Life seems to flood by, taking our loves quickly in its flow. In the growth of children, in the aging of beloved parents, time's chart is magnified, shown in particularity, focused, so that with each celebration of maturity there is also a pang of loss...

I thought about this yesterday as I watched a small chickadee gathering hair from the carcass of some dead animal—a rabbit, perhaps—to carry back for its nest. The bird bobbed its head up and down efficiently, like a little reverse sewing machine unstitching the hair from the carcass and gathering up the stitches in its beak. From time to time it threw me a glance over its shoulder and returned unconcernedly to its work. It was a comical thing as it flew away with its beak full of hair. It looked like it was wearing a huge false mustache, as if it were flying home to show off its Groucho Marx impression.


Christopher Tassava said...

What a great post. The image of the bird flying away with rabbit fur is indelible. The metaphoric possibilities - circle of life and all that - are immense, too...

Penelope said...

Very nice. I have a new post that touches on your theme of nesting.

Jim H. said...


For most of his performing life, Groucho's moustache was painted on. The bird's moustache would be more like Einstein's or Twain's.

Still, a beautiful, evocative post.

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .