It was late May, when I first saw her from afar, but knew immediately she wasn’t going to be mine. No she had more handsome suitors — flashier, more cosmopolitan. After all, she had traveled and arrived here from somewhere south, per-haps Mexico, Central or South America only days before.
These guys who surrounded her, could dance and sing like Ambrosia — “Biggest Part of Me” and “You’re The Only Woman.” Why is it that chicks dig the guys with moves on the dance floor? I suppose it’s because the rest of us become like old routines.
But then, who can compete with probably the inspiration for Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long? … People dancing in the streets, see the rhythm all in their feet, life is good, wild and sweet.”
I was enamored with Elizabeth. And, my wife was no more jealous than she was when our lab Brie was a pup. Mornings and afternoons with the workdays in between were spent tossing dummies for months. Her only comment was, “Before you go out and play with your girlfriend, you better come inside and kiss me first.”
So it was with Elizabeth for a few months. Chris would sagaciously call my cell to inquire whether the afternoon commute home was going to include a stop by Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge first.
She knew me too well. Being smitten comes with a certain persona that can’t readily be hidden.
Once Elizabeth had chosen her mate, who was handsome, gallant, and monogamously attached to her, she went about constructing a nest. I knew the brood of these painted buntings would be a blessing to the world. A certain Rabbi foretold of such things and like us, their importance to His Father.
In a span of seven short days she securely fixed the birthplace of her chicks along the limb of a red swamp maple, where it forked off the main trunk. Inside the bowl built from flag grass, assorted leaves, bits of spider web and mud to bond it together lay three eggs.
Each evening before sunset I’d visit, like a doting grandfather. Watching from a distance so as not to disturb her I became lost in my thoughts and anxieties.
“What if a hawk sees her or a snake slithers up that tree?” I’d worry. Where she lived, there are no streetlights, no law enforcement, or neighbors watching. Nature can be cruel.
Visits during those afternoons were more to give myself peace of mind. She was fine.
Her yellowish green color and nest blended in so well that most creatures, including humans, could walk within inches of her and never notice she was there. If she was afraid her stillness demonstrated her courage.
Like a steady wave, the low buzz of cicadas joined a chorus of songs from common yellow throats who seem to always sing when no other birds feel like it. Elizabeth’s mate sang joyously from a nearby willow. And, through my lens I saw them — first two — then the third.
They looked too fragile for this harsh environment. But, the birds in the surrounding brushy woods sang anyway. This was their lot in life. They seemed unimpeded or concerned with such truths and went about their business in spite of the facts.
What was it — eight or nine days? In just shy of three weeks I saw this miracle of nature.
As voluptuous as Elizabeth was during her courtship, she possessed the maternal instincts revered by humankind. She would leave the nest for merely seconds and return to gaping mouths with insects, caterpillars and huge garden spiders whose webs block wooded trails and give those who pass the creeps.
Whole they swallowed the protein raw and in most cases still wiggling. Again, nature is cruel and these baby buntings had little time to grow, perhaps eight or nine days, before a predator would eventually discover their hide.
They say one dog year equals seven human years. If so, than one bunting’s day in the nest, must be equal to two or three human years because, these guys fly or die in just over a week. And, by the end of August — early September — the whole brood will fly south over the Gulf of Mexico to the tropics for the winter.
This past weekend I stood alone along the trail where Elizabeth’s empty nest remained in the low branch of the maple. Some other mother hoping to trap an unsuspecting insect for supper had already strewed cobwebs across it. And, some-where in the understory of the surrounding wooded acreage she was out there with her young fattening up, preparing for the first northerly winds later this month to whisk them all across the sea.
There are things that shape your thoughts over the course of life’s journey. My summer with Elizabeth has left an im-pression on me that I’ll carry forever. So much so, next spring I’ll be waiting for her along the trail … .
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