It started as an innocent story—romantic, even. At the beginning of July, I discovered a meticulously built, beautiful nest with three gorgeous turquoise eggs in the shrub below our bedroom’s window. After some Googling, I figured out that the nest most likely belonged to an American Robin. I marveled at such a wonderful gift of Nature. For about 10 days, I watched the mamma bird sitting on her eggs. I also noticed her mate flying around our backyard, often landing on a large maple tree with a worm in his beak, loudly announcing that it was his family who took dwelling here. At first, I thought he was being loud so that everybody knew what an amazing partner and father he was, providing for his family. I soon realized that it was a territorial shout out, as to let other birds know that no one else was welcome here.
The day came and I saw three little pink balls in the nest. The mom would sit on them most of the time but flew away occasionally. During those breaks I snuck in to look at the babies. A few days later the white fluff appeared on their tiny bodies and the chicks started to stretch their necks. Then a few days later, the white fluff turned grey and I could see the adorable yellow beaks, wide open at all times waiting for food. I was so excited to witness this transformation and grateful that I get to see these Discovery channel like scenes in my own backyard.
I was disastrously naïve about this peaceful coexistence. Right about the time when the grey chicks were waiting with their beaks open and I happened to approach the nest, the mom got really annoyed. She was walking around on the grass, flipping her wings and shouting (it was not chirping); she clearly did not appreciate my presence. I retreated thinking that the new mom was rightfully protective of her babies and feeling guilty that I had disturbed the peace of the new family. From that day forward, even though I never approached the nest, the mom wouldn’t tolerate my presence anywhere in the backyard. The moment I would open the door to our patio, she would appear out of nowhere, shouting. She swooped over me back and forth when I—peacefully—tried to sit for meditation under my maple tree. Evidently, she had a different idea whose tree, and for that matter, the entire space it was. I thought perhaps the moment I stepped on the grass, she feels threatened. Nope. Even when I attempted to sit on the patio, she first flew close by, then walked around the grass along it and finally flew over my head to the roof, all the while loudly expressing her discontent.
I was wondering what’s the ending of this story would be. The websites on the subject told me that the American Robins are most aggressive during their nesting period which is surely over by September. Does it mean that I’m banned from my own backyard for the rest of the summer? A week into such tense cohabitation, I was reflecting on the absurdity of this situation trying to gather my courage to step out. It was just a relatively small bird after all! I attempted to sit under my maple tree ignoring her (she was displaying the whole confrontational repertoire of walking on the grass grumpy, making loud noises, swooping over my head, landing on the tree branch and shouting). I stood up and tried to reason with her. I said that she’s welcome to stay here with her family, but that it was my space, too. I hope I’m more effective with my students than I was with that bird– she did not seem convinced. Although she stopped shouting and listened while angling her head and looking at me sideways, she flew away only to resume shouting again at our next encounter.
But Nature has its course. After about ten days of open confrontation during which I almost entirely stopped enjoying my backyard (I couldn’t relax even when I did step outside), the bird seemed to calm down. She was flying around less frequently, and by the end of July the entire family left our property. The backyard went quiet because the robins clearly scared away all other birds that were used to visit us. I particularly missed seeing my favorite blue jays. One day I was rewarded by a quick visit of a pair of cardinals, a male and a female. I recognized the scarlet red of the male but didn’t realize at first what the other bird was. Turns out, the female cardinals have a particular shade of raspberry pink with some grey feathers under it, a combination well worthy of the red carpet. The birds landed on the back of our garden chair and I saw them from the upstairs window, enjoying an unusual angle and an unusually close look. They were flirting and singing lovingly, looking at each other, getting close and apart and then flew away together in a few minutes.
Perhaps the gifts of Nature are also in a mere realization that everything passes: fleeting moments of beauty or the discomfort of confrontation…