Wild highs, wild lows, the best and worst of wild.
It really started a few weeks ago, when the wrens started nesting in the birdhouse right outside my kitchen window. That would be the same birdhouse I attribute with inspiring the start of this blog, just about a year ago (you can read about it here if you missed it).
I have several perches for writing, depending on the season, time of day, and weather. My kitchen window seat is my favorite indoor spot during daytime hours (my patio is my favorite outdoor spot when the Virginia humidity isn’t too brutal).
So I Was Right There…
I was there to see the male deliver carry-out meals to his house-bound partner once the eggs arrived. And to see him switch places with her from time to time when she JUST NEEDED TO GET OUT OF THERE.
And then, about ten days ago, the babies hatched. I couldn’t see them, since they were hidden inside the birdhouse. But I knew they had burst from their shells because both parents went into full service, 24/7 meals-on-wheels (or wings) mode.
I sat mesmerized watching as both the mother and the father tirelessly delivered a banquet of earwigs, spiders, beetles, moths, and other crawling critters I couldn’t identify. My own productivity came to a standstill.
I set a timer to count how many times those babies were fed. In one half-hour period, the parents brought 14 different beak-fuls of protein to the nest. This went on for days and days. I vowed to stop whining about grocery shopping.
And not only that. The father was the most courageous bodyguard you could imagine. He would dive-bomb anything that came near the nest. I watched him take on two squirrels at once, flying first at one then the other, until they had high tailed it off the property. Other birds–including cardinals, gargantuan in comparison to the tiny wren–were similarly chased away from the feeders that hung nearby.
I couldn’t wait to see the babies emerge for their first test flights. It had to be any day now. I kept my calendar clear so that I wouldn’t miss a thing. My human family got tired of hearing me gush about my bird family.
And Then It Happened
I turned on the kitchen light at about 7:00 am, quite a bit later than I usually do. I don’t remember why I was delayed — maybe I checked email after I meditated.
As I went about my morning ritual of stirring coffee grounds and boiling water in my French press with a wooden chopstick (a much quieter, less violent means than metal spoon against glass), my eye caught something amiss outside the window.
“No…no…no…no…,” I said out loud.
It wasn’t big. Nowhere near the size of the 5 foot black rat snake that checked out that same (then empty) birdhouse last year. But it didn’t matter. The bulge in the middle of its otherwise slender body told the tale. (I learned later this might be a juvenile offspring of last year’s visitor.)
My camera is always at the ready by the kitchen window. I grabbed it, but was torn about whether I should photograph the tragedy. I stood there, paralyzed.
The snake, too, seemed paralyzed. I imagined a speech bubble next to its little head: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing…”
I took my camera outside and gave the snake a piece of my mind.
“You ate my birds! You ate MY birds! I can’t believe you ATE MY BIRDS!”
I went back inside, still muttering to myself, losing myself in the drama, operating on autopilot. I suddenly discovered I had mindlessly cracked two eggs in a pan for my breakfast. Oops.
My husband and sons were out of town. The dog ignored my rants. I called Mark, not caring if I woke him in his hotel room.
“A snake ate my birds! A snake ate my birds!” was all I could say.
He was duly sympathetic, but what could he do?
I posted pictures on Facebook and Google+, which I discovered was surprisingly satisfying in a time of crisis when I was alone in the house.
Two responses were particularly comforting — one from a professional nature photographer on Google+, who commended me for not intervening (truth be told, I’m not sure whether I would have intervened if I had gotten there in time).
Another friend (and gardener) simply said, “Baby birds aren’t the only ones who need to eat.”
The hard part was having to watch him (maybe her), draped on the birdhouse for hours that day, flaunting the bulge. Every now and then one of the wren parents would dive bomb, but never near the snake’s head.
As if to add insult to injury, the snake slithered back into the entrance of the birdhouse several hours later. I wasn’t sure if it was still in there until two days later, when I saw its little face peeking out of the hole. It finally departed just as I was heading out of town for a few days. I like to think it waited to leave until it knew I was watching.
I took a couple of days to settle down. I thought I would wait a while before writing about it. And it’s only been a few days now, so maybe it’s still too soon to process everything.
But this is what I’ve taken away so far:
It’s a Meal, Not a Murder: 16 Life Lessons From A Snake on the Birdhouse
- Don’t judge.
- They aren’t mine.
- Accept what is.
- Everyone needs to eat.
- The mark of a successful gardener is that everyone wants to hang out in your yard.
- Our time here is fleeting.
- As parents, we work our asses off, do everything we can, but we can’t control everything.
- Life and death are happening all around us, with most of us not noticing.
- Nature wins sometimes.
- Most parents have to work a lot harder than I do.
- There’s a lot to be seen out our back windows.
- Sometimes the garden shouts, rather than whispers.
- Learn to be comfortable with not knowing (is the snake still in there?).
- Learn to let go.
- Face your fears.
- Death is part of life.
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