Tuesday, June 15, 2010

To Alida...From Granddad

Alida, Granddad, and Baby Robins
Early in June 2010, the 3rd, specifically, the day after Alida became three years old, a very spring-like day was occurring at our home near East Greenville, PA. Alida and I, around 10 am, were headed toward our vegetable garden to take tour of the popular strawberry patch. The berries were plentiful that year, needing picking every day or so.
Our little saltbox-shaped barn was an allurement to Alida, so as I crossed the lawn heading toward the garden gate, Alida detoured and took the path less traveled, through the barn and down another path which also led to the garden. The garden was gated, as a certain Peter Rabbit all too often frequented “Mr. McGregor’s” Garden.
(Mr. McGregor is the Beatrix Potter gardener who put up with a naughty bunny named Peter. Alida loved to play “Mr. McGregor” in our home: She and I would take turns being the rabbit; we’d ‘find’ each other in the garden—the family room—and get chased out of the ‘garden’ with a make-believe rake made of simple Styrofoam. Great fun, it was. Mimi would get involved once in a while too, playing the part of Peter’s mommy, to whom the shooed rabbit would be sent at the end of Mr. McGregor’s rake. ‘Home’, and safety, for Peter Rabbit would be the plaid, reclining lounger in the living room.)
This day, however, wasn’t to be about rabbits. All of a sudden, I heard coming from the inside of the barn, “Grandad! Grandad! There’s a bird in here!” Quickly, I hurried to see what was the matter. Sure enough, Alida had come upon a baby robin, frantically flapping its wings in futile attempt to exit the barn through a paned window glass. Suddenly, from another direction, a second baby flew by our feet, past us both, at an altitude of only about two feet off the floor of the barn. Out the open doorway facing the garden went baby bird #2— experiencing flight and taking in its first view of the world outside the barn’s wooden walls.
What Alida had stumbled upon and witnessed was the very first flight of two of three baby robins that had just launched from their childhood nest, carefully fabricated by Mother Robin, just above that same door of the barn.

For weeks prior, Mother Robin would tend that nest, whether I entered the barn or not. Several times I can remember inadvertently surprising Mom by my unannounced sudden appearance (to get a rake, hoe, or something for use in the garden). Alarmed, she’d fly from the nest, but quickly to return when she got her motherly bearings! She’d at once perch just outside the door, making a squawking fuss in reprimand of me invading her family’s home. I got the message and would leave in short order.
Meanwhile, as baby-bird #2 flew the coop, baby-bird #1 was still frantic at the window. Not a good situation! Alida stepped back as I approached the flurry of wings and feathers in attempt to hand-catch the youngin’ to help solve the exit dilemma. Just as I made my reach, the youngster got his bearings and, as well as his kin, made low altitude exit out the doorway of the barn.
We’d both witnessed what most people never see. The babies couldn’t have been out of the nest (about eight feet above the floor) for more than a minute or two, if that.
The thought then dawned on me— what had become of the third-bird, that other little fellow of three I’d seen clamoring for food in the nest, incessantly, for the last several weeks?
Alida and I, both standing quietly for a moment, heard a faint “peep-peep-peep, peep-peep” sounding from the floor area in a far corner of the barn. I quickly motioned to Alida to come with me, and we both, slowly, approached baby-bird #3. This little peeper, as its siblings, had “flown the nest” as well, but somehow wound up in a dark corner, not at a window or the daylight visible at the barn’s doorway. With haste and two hands, I snatched up the now squawking, shrill-sounding, little one! Realizing the poor thing’s sense of peril and wanting to liberate it as quickly as possible, yet wanting Alida to experience a close-up touch, I quickly got her to touch this little one of God’s creation before it took flight, ne’re to return. She did! And smiled.
But at the same time, there was an unhappy, highly exasperated “Mother Robin”, looking me in the eye, from her vantage point about five feet away, on the floor, in the barn door opening. One unhappy, hair-standing-up, cackling, blusterous exhibition of anger was coming forth! I can remember wondering who was more noisy and upset; baby or mother! Turning to Alida, I quickly said, “We must let baby go!” As she watched, I gently tossed baby into the morning air, a foot or so above the floor. And

as the rest of kin, off baby flew, on first flight, about fifty feet or so in total distance, finally landing in the nearby garden area.
All three would be off to experience that ‘first time’ thrill of newness of life, if birds can sense such things. . . Food would be their-own-for-the-getting now; Mother Robin’s nurture had passed into yesterday. So with their freedom came much responsibility.
Alida and I went on to the garden and picked strawberries. Mimi had been in town and, sadly, missed the whole event. Upon arriving home, we relayed the exciting story, all wondering if we’d see the three young-ones again.
Maybe we did; there were so many robins in the yard that year, at a distance they seemed to all blend together. The babies, even as early on as their day of first flight were, close up, distinguishable from Mother Robin— somewhat smaller. But possessing, even then, the same robin-red-breast as adults, at a distance differentiating between the two generations proved difficult. Instead of darker adult feathered wings, the youngsters yet possessed a muted black & white speckle; that, too, would quickly fade from youthful to adult plumage.
I wished them all well; frolic in freedom, little ones, in our square of God’s green earth here in Pennsylvania.
And so happened a special time; a time when the simplest things of life display the grandeur found in all of Creation, to the hearts of God’s children, big and small. In the life of the smaller child, as she matures, may a remembrance of Granddad and granddaughter, and baby birds, be precious and enduring.
A loving grandfather,
June 8, 2010