I always prune the trees in early spring. It’s the perfect time of year for it. The boughs are still bare, and the midday heat thaws the ice and snow well before the first leaves sprout. Those are good days to be outside. The trees show their age about that time, and the oldest limbs sag from the weight of the months-long snow. I trim those — the old, the worn, the broken — so that newer branches can have their day.
It’s in one of those fallen limbs that I find an empty nest. There’s not much to it, just a bundle of twigs and twine stuffed together to make a home. I pick it up gingerly, afraid that it will fall apart, but the twigs are stiff from the cold and the nest holds against my prodding.
Lily would’ve liked to see this. My daughter, away at college, is soon to be a practicing ornithologist. One look and she could probably tell me what kind of bird sheltered here. Maybe that isn’t a topic of study; I don’t know. Of course, I don’t know much about nests, either.
I know enough to scoop the snow out, then I set it on the porch to dry while I finish my work. It’s still damp the following morning and for three days hence, but I catch a glimpse of it every time I go outside. When I speak with my daughter, I consider telling her about it, but I hold my tongue at the last minute.
I have an idea.
Two weeks pass before the spring migration begins. Birds coming up along the southern flyways begin to sing in the early morning, and the trees begin to fill with leaves. I place the empty nest between the two strong branches of a young jack pine tree, where I have a clear view of it from the window, and hurry back inside to watch.
I have no idea what I’m expecting. The birds don’t run toward the nest the second I walk away. Even in those first few days, then weeks, I see no activity. It’s an old nest, I tell myself. It’s been used and abandoned. Birds build new homes every year.
It was a long shot, anyway.
The nest is long forgotten when my daughter arrives for summer break. She’s busy with a job and required reading for a fall semester English class. Between her social obligations and her busy schedule, we hardly see one another. When we do, it’s hard to connect with her. College has changed her, altered her personality somehow. She’s talking about issues that I’ve never heard of, engaging in discussions well beyond my blue-collar understanding.
Where did my daughter go? I ask myself. Did I make a mistake sending her to that school? It wasn’t her first choice, but costs being what they were . . . . Maybe the difference would’ve been worth the price.
It’s July when I begin to count the days until she departs. She’s miserable at home. I share the sentiment, though our reasoning is different.
I am puzzling through those emotions the day I walk in and find her staring out the window.
“Dad,” she says, “come here! Come look at this!”
I cross to her side and glance out the window.
“What is it?”
“That bird there!” She points to a yellow-breasted thrush bird darting in an out of the jack pine in my yard. “That’s a Kirtland’s warbler. I’ve never seen one before.”
I look at the bird. It’s head is a blueish-brown, flecked with black markings. The bird swivels its head and vanishes. “Oh? Are they rare?”
She nods. “Very. And they built a nest right next to your window.”
I smile, but resolve to keep my silence. Maybe I’ll tell her before she goes back to school. For now, though, I stand with her and watch the birds . . . just like we did when she was a kid.