The trees are mostly bare this month but are beginning to fill in, and they seem like the stud frames of a building under construction. The threadbare trees remind me that spring, officially three weeks away, is very much a work in progress.
I like looking at the treeline each morning and spotting a stray birds’ nest or two within the canopies of oaks and sycamores in my neighborhood. The trees, largely devoid of leaves, allow a view of the nests that will soon be obscured as the branches green up for the warmer months.
I trace the line of a limb outward, as if following a length of calligraphy, until I notice that a slender branch has suddenly complicated itself in a clever weaving of twigs and grass, the handiwork of some winged creature whose life operates at a higher plane than my own.
The scene reminds me of my wife’s late grandmother, who once told me that she regarded birds’ nests as a certain sign of God’s existence. The idea that a bird brain could hold within it the plan for such flawless handiwork struck her as solid evidence of some larger divine design.
I doubt that birds’ nests will settle any theological arguments, but the sense of wonder that my wife’s grandmother felt at watching the lives of birds and flowers is something I’ve tried to hold close since she died several years ago.
We’re naturally curious about what we can’t fully understand, and the birds’ nests suspended above my small patch of suburbia are too high for me to know very well. I sometimes peer at the nests with my birding binoculars, but I might as well be looking at the craters of the moon. I can see just enough detail to intrigue me, though not enough to deepen my sense of what I’m observing.
For a clearer grasp of my subject, I suppose I’d need to borrow a bucket truck from the utility workers who will soon be trimming our neighborhood trees in advance of hurricane season. I don’t envy their job, although I do occasionally envy their view of things. Tree level is about the right height, I’ve decided, to watch another spring unfold across the calendar. The view from a plane window is fine, although at that altitude, the land grows faintly abstract, like the toy mountains and village squares of a train set. I guess the top of an old oak would probably strike the right bargain between earth and sky.
Denied a close-up view of my local birds’ nests, I’ve resorted to reference books, but they haven’t been much help, either. I have before me a Peterson field guide for birds’ nests, and it’s interesting enough, but the nests are pictured from above, the way a camera might hover across the top of a stove pot on a cooking show.
I see my birds’ nests in profile, though, surveying their silhouettes the way that sailors once studied enemy planes. It’s not the kind of perspective that the Peterson folks have much sympathy with.
So I do my best in these expectant days before Easter, daydreaming of birds’ nests, a new breeding season, and the humble egg, like spring itself, waiting to hatch.