Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Parable

"I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could.” ~John Audubon

“‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches more to us than to the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air?’” Job 35:10-11

“The sad news is that there has been a steady increase in the number of divorces among couples married 30 or more years. Many long-term married couples divorce one another after the kids leave home. They realize too late that their children kept them together … [and sense] an uncertain future along with being overwhelmed by too much togetherness.

"The good news is that with good communication and preparation for this phase of your marriage, the empty nest years can be tremendously enjoyable and full of new beginnings.” ~Sheri & Bob Stritof

Two years ago, a young couple moved in with us for the summer. They were fairly quiet, and tended to be very pleasant house guests. They didn’t demand much of us, yet they provided hours of entertainment and many educational opportunities.

Now this is the third summer in a row the barn swallows have nested on our porch. The first year they built the nest without our knowledge and before we knew what was happening they had a nest full of five little brown speckled eggs. The happy couple laid and raised that and one more brood of babies that year, and when the season was over, I took down the nest.

Last year, we came home from a vacation to find the charming couple rebuilding their home … beak-full of mud by little beak-full of mud. They raised two sets of quadruplets that year and I decided not to take down the nest when the summer ended.

A couple weeks ago they returned yet again. During the weeks leading up to their return, the couple spent lots of evenings out on the town, hanging out, dancing in the sky, and feasting at the Flying Insect Café. Soon after they arrived this year, they proceeded to do some light remodeling on the nest: additional mud pack, new grasses and feathers, maybe some new appliances - only the best for the kids, you know. Finally the big day came: they laid five small eggs. Five new little lives are developing as I type.

This couple, who, before, was living it up, laughing, and having fun together and was investing some serious time and energy in their relationship, now has completely new priorities. Mama is absolutely obsessed with these eggs! More than any other year so far, she sits on these eggs for hours on end. Due to the remodeling, she now sits lower in the nest and it’s difficult to see, but I’ve chatted with her and I know what she’s doing. She’s up there perusing What to Expect When You’re Expecting, reading aloud books like Guess How Much I Love You?, and playing classical music through five miniature sets of headphones. She even signed up on one of those websites for expectant mothers and waits with baited breath for the daily e-mail informing her of the chicks’ development.

Daddy? He comes and goes, works out with his buddies, plays golf with the guys from the office. He comes home late and, though he occasionally sits on the side of the nest next to Mama, he seems more comfortable on our porch light, about five feet away, watching the late show while Mama goes to bed early.

I know what’s about to happen, though. I’ve seen it four times in the last two years. In a couple weeks, from those delicate eggs will hatch five of the most pathetic, naked, blind, helpless little creatures you could imagine. They will decide who looks like whom and Daddy will become very attentive, playing tag team with Mama as they provide for their little ones. All day, every day, for three weeks (I promise I am not exaggerating), they will fly back and forth, back and forth, back and forth – stopping at the Flying Insect Café for take out and carrying the spoils back to five open, expectant mouths. They will stuff a crane fly or a mosquito into one mouth while everyone else screams, “Awwww, no fair!” and then go back for more. Mama and Daddy will never fly together – one goes out, the other comes in, and vice versa … all day, every day, for three weeks. In the evenings, once the kids are down for the night, they will both sit on the side of the nest, the adjoining ledge (or the porch light) and sigh. They will fall asleep from sheer exhaustion before they even have a chance to reconnect.

After three weeks, these babies will begin to leave the nest. For four or five days, they will take turns daring each other to jump. They’ll finally get their flying permits, and they will wonder what life is like outside their neat and sheltered little world. Mama and Daddy will basically stop feeding them and they will be forced to step out on their own. And no, you cannot move back in with us – go to college or get a job or something.

Finally, after all have fledged, Mama and Daddy will sit on their vacant nest. They will survey the damage and consider the emptiness in their hearts. They will go out to dinner, look at each other across the table and sigh with resignation. Finally one will speak. Honey, I don’t feel like we even know each other anymore.

Oh, that we might be wiser than the birds of the air.


  1. Great story. I've loved the times that birds "chose" us for their nesting spots.

    Already working on the "enjoying our empty nest" phase...did that make sense?

  2. Marvelous!!! Wonderful story, pictures, and insights into life! Thanks so much for sharing it all with us!

  3. Update, April 14: There are now SIX eggs!!! That is the most they have ever laid! Of course, that means the chance of one not surviving is greater, as they are already so busy feeding five others. Sometimes there has been a "runt," but so far they have always survived (one typically hatches a few days later and is therefore a few days delayed in development). I guess we'll see! :-)


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