There is something strange that comes over you when you become a mother. I don’t limit myself to the idea of giving birth as the only way to inherit the title- as we all know, being a parent comes in many forms. The act of accepting responsibility for another living being sets upon your shoulders a weight that, despite its heaviness, you could no more bear to shrug off than your own skin.
We’ve all heard and seen remarkable stories of mothers in nature doing tremendous things in defense of their charges. There is, I think, no quicker way to get yourself in trouble than to challenge a mother on her own turf. I don’t know what it is- love, instinct, or something we have no words for, but it pervades nature and guides our survival. It is not just a human trait.
I ducked out early on Mother’s Day for a solitary Starbucks, to enjoy a morning latte in relaxation and quiet, a gift to myself. I parked, stepped out on the sidewalk, and heard above me a nervous chirping. There, in the rafters, a nest. And down by my feet, a small bird.
She was featherless, cold, her neck stretched out as it must have been in life, reaching for her mother. She fell from the nest, and that was that. And though it is nature, and those things happen, it still filled me with a deep sense of sadness as I listened to what must surely have been her mother calling out in distress.
I ran into the Starbucks and came out with a napkin. Another woman was approaching with her dog and I wanted to make sure I got to the bird before the dog did. As she drew closer, I saw she held a plastic bag in her hand. She, too, had seen the bird and like me, perhaps struck by the nature of the day, couldn’t bear to leave the dead hatchling on the concrete.
I picked it up, cradling it in the napkin. Placing it in the trash would at least save it the indignity of being stepped on or eaten by a chihuahua, but I felt badly about doing that. I looked around at the pavement, and settled for burying the bird in a planter outside the CVS. It took 10 seconds. It was a gesture, nothing more, but a way to acknowledge this universal bond between mother and child.
I went home, somber over that sad start to the morning, to find my kids clustered by my husband in the front yard by one of the trees. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I was getting dive bombed by a hummingbird,” my husband replied. “I figured she must have a nest nearby.”
And so she did.
Mindful of what I had just seen, I took a peek but only after lecturing the kids on not disturbing the nest. We retreated, and as we did, the mother returned to check on her egg.
Such a tiny little thing. The nest was the size of a halved chicken egg. You could have held the entire nest, bird and all, in your palm.
And yet when the big huge human lumbered by on its way to the car, she didn’t hesitate to divebomb his head with that beak of hers to warn him to keep his distance. Motherhood makes us all do strange things.