Joys of a Simple Nest

I am horrible at keeping plants alive.  Almost all of them meet the same ugly fate after they have been under my care for an extended period of time.  They dry up, the leaves turn brown, and eventually, the life inside of them withers away.  I am a plant killer.  There, I said it.  Presently, I’m trying extremely hard to keep two hanging baskets on our front porch alive.  So far, so good.

Days ago, I headed outside to water their thirsty soil.  As I lowered the geranium from its hanger, a small wren rustled the still green leaves and made an escape toward our dogwood tree.  I set the basket down on the porch and then folded back a few of the wide leaves, looking through the foliage from various vantage points.  My eyes quickly spotted what I was looking for – a simple nest tucked away therein.  

It was quite remarkable.  This earthen bowl was intricately woven together by threads of straw, bent twigs, bits of mulch, and a blanket of white fur resting on the wood floor.  Nestled within the curved edges were three delicate eggs, speckled and pale.  It is no wonder birds sing the loveliest tunes.  Their work is honorable and inspiring.  They are masters of balancing art and function as they build their simple nests with the hope that the lives held within may thrive. 

While I examined this bird’s home, I thought about how little I know about the actual construction of a house, as in nada.  Humanity has shifted away from individuals mastering many of the basics for survival.  We know so little about building our own homes, procuring our own food, and clothing our own bodies.  Instead, we’ve turned our attention to earning a paycheck so that we may outsource a good portion of these ventures.  I can’t help but wonder if we lost something valuable in this transition. 

My most meaningful moments are often tied to helping the life around me and the life within me thrive.  I find these moments while singing “Country Roads” to Parker just before his eyelids fall heavy with sleep. I find them as my hands pick red, ripe tomatoes from Jamie’s garden.  I can taste the refreshing bruschetta they will soon become as I walk back through dewy grass with a couple in each hand. I find them while I exchange a handful of old blueberries for a still warm egg from our chicken coop.  I find them as I sit on my front porch swing while the rain pours down around me, watering the plants I’ve left to wilt.  I find them as I teach the boys how to make overnight oats, and as I clip lavender hydrangea blooms and dip their stems in a mason jar filled will cold water.  These simple acts are full of life.  They are sacred.

These days, it is easy to confuse living with having.  Lifestyles require a host of needs and endless wants.  We seek out bigger houses, shinier cars, fancier phones.  We feel pushed to work longer and harder so that we may obtain more or better stuff.  We are left with less time to enjoy the goods we work so hard to purchase.  Eventually, we are not the owners of our belongings; instead, our belongings begin to own us.  The consumer becomes consumed.  We hardly whistle a tune while we labor away each day.  We feel worn and weary and empty when we come home to our overflowing houses. 

The complexity of modern life is exhausting.  We have a finite number of minutes within each day and so many roles to fill, so many tasks to complete.  We live on the edge of sanity, if we are lucky.  A more simple way of living feels like the answer I’m looking for.  Staring at the wren’s nest, my home starts to feel a bit too large, a bit too full of stuff.  I wonder what meaning lies in our too full schedules, in our too full rooms. I feel a rush of envy as I behold the tiny nest surrounding this wren’s most precious possessions.  

Maybe living is more about flying light, just as the birds do.  Maybe the art of thriving is rooted in simplicity.  

Would our tune sound as lovely as a Mama bird’s if we embraced the joys of a more simple nest?

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Love and Loss

Fourteen years ago, I decided to get a dog.  I drove with my sister and her kids to Pulaski to pick up a terrier mix who closely resembled Toto.  This pup’s mom and dad had gotten passionate through the fence that separated their living space, resulting in a litter of Silky Westie puppies.  There was but one left when we arrived, and he would come home with me after the sellers gave him a bubbly bath and blow dried his fur coat.  He snuggled on my lap the whole drive home, and I became a Mom to a wee little fur baby.  

I named him Oompa because I had recently watched CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY  with some friends (weird, I know.)  After my own kids were born, we started mostly calling him Bubba.  

Bubba loved to ride with the windows down in his younger days.  His paws would rest against the window frame while his scraggly hair blew in the breeze.  He loved miniature tennis balls; even invented his own game in which he would anchor the ball between both paws while he lay on the sofa.  Then he’d nudge the ball away with the tip of his nose and just as it was about to fall to the ground, he’d snag the ball mid-air with his teeth.  He would play round after round and then pant proudly.

Years ago, a friend and I took Bubba hiking up to the Cascades.  At the top, we took off his leash so he could explore.  Immediately, he found a book bag containing a Subway sandwich and began eating another hiker’s lunch.  I apologized profusely and then looked up to see him being held by complete strangers in a group photo by the falls.  

He loved a good adventure almost as much as he loved popcorn.  While we considered him mostly deaf the last few years, as soon as he heard the kernels pour into the pan on the stove top, he would emerge from his slumber and beg shamelessly.  This raised some questions for us – was he, like our children, really just encumbered by selective hearing loss?

We knew something was wrong last night when he didn’t even look up when Jamie laid a bit of popcorn beside him in his dog bed.  He hadn’t been himself for a few days and last night, he passed away at the age of 14.

Bubba was always quick to set out on his own adventure when the gate to our backyard was left wide open.  He would sniff and stroll and pee on everything in sight once he made it out of our yard.  Yesterday, we left gate open again.  We looked for him on our street for fifteen minutes before we discovered him still in the backyard. He seemed a bit confused as he lay in the dirt, hidden below a row of hydrangeas in full bloom.  It was getting difficult for him to find his way out of the open gate.  So another pathway opened for him, one each of us has never seen.  Bubba bravely found his way to his next big adventure.  There is no life without death and no death without life.  

This loss reminds me of how very little I know about the workings of the world.  My kids ask, “Where is Bubba?  Why is he not waking up?  Did he go to heaven?  Why did Bubba go?”  I offer the best answers I can, all the while acknowledging that I am certain about nothing that I say.  I am saddened to lose our precious pup.  I wonder if love and loss are permanently bound together.  Does the act of living tie us to these two opposing forces?  

We all want the happy ending.  We seek it out feverishly.  And maybe that is why I also feel hopeful.  Hopeful that Bubba is off on another adventure somewhere far and away, running with Bailey, our chocolate lab we lost a little over a year ago.  

Bubba and Bailey were the best of friends.  They loved to wrestle on the floor.  Her big paws would smack Bubba and he’d growl and nibble at her feet, all in play.  They worked as a team to knock over the trash can and then disperse its contents all across the kitchen floor.  They loved walks outside and often fell asleep side by side.  

I imagine their reunion was quite grand last night, and I hope that right now, they are snuggled up together recounting tales of all that’s happened in the short year they’ve been apart.

Love and loss.  
Life and death.  
The music we dance to, here on Earth.