the museum of americana

a literary review

Empty Nest—Nonfiction by Paul Thiel

A perfectly-round-on-the-inside concoction of tiny twigs and dried grasses, expertly woven and perched on a horizontal section of drain pipe beneath the eave of my porch roof. Vacant since early spring, when it materialized seemingly overnight. From day to day I watched for an occupant, to no avail. I wondered if any eggs had been deposited inside.

A few years back the same location was employed for the same purpose. At that time I climbed a ladder to peer inside the earlier nest, not nearly as neat and larger than the new one. There were four gem-like little robin’s eggs inside. I quickly pulled down the ladder and made myself scarce, peering from the distance of my seat on the porch. Day followed day with the mother sitting and a mate bringing morsels of worms for his lady fair. In a few weeks I could hear, finally see, little open beaks pleading to be fed. They seemed scarcely disturbed by my presence as long as I stayed on the porch. When I ventured into the yard near their abode I would be chided and sometimes dive bombed to keep my distance. I respected their need to protect their young, big thing that I was, and kept away as much as I could. Annoying though, since there was gardening to be done. But I avoided that immediate area and let them establish their home on my drain pipe. As the little beaks grew in size I waited for the eventual disembarking into the swimming pool of air. Missed it. One day it was vacant.

Eventually, I removed it from the pipe. Beautifully woven little thing. And I contemplated bird’s nest soup, thinking about the inevitable bird waste that filtered into the weave. Sounded disgusting. But I checked Wikipedia for the actual recipe. Not bad. Swiftlets build nests with nutritious saliva. The nests are purloined before they can be used and the birdies have to start over, which they do. The tasty homes are difficult to harvest and rather pricey. But that’s over in China, I wasn’t about to boil my nest. I gently placed it on a boxwood shrub as an homage to the diligent parents. I glanced up at the porch. Bits of grasses, a foundation of sorts, yet hung down from the pipe. It really was an ideal location, hidden from danger both above and below. Large predator birds preying from above, and cats sneaking up from below who’d have some difficulty climbing the drain. Actually, for several years in a row the pipe was used for this purpose. I wondered if some of the robins went back to that locale to build their own nest like their parents did. Or perhaps the parents themselves returned. But the pipe remained bare for a few years.

Today, the empty nest  is a puzzle. I can’t imagine a bird building that nicely engineered new nest and then abandoning it.  Smaller and tighter than the earlier ones the robins built, it’s a puzzle. Who knows what variety bird it was. Something must have happened to the little avian critter. Best bet, a cat. They stalk in the verdant area I’ve created in my back yard. Perhaps, some eggs were left in the nest before the possible murder with no chance for new life to emerge. A loss to nature’s bounty.

Then one morning, something odd occurred. A small wrenish bird perched on the nest. Then plopped into the nest. Aha! You were just waiting, little thing. It’s rather late in the season. Perhaps, something did happen and you’re going to try this birthing thing over again. I could accept that. What do I know about bird cycles of birth, et cetera? Then, in an instant, another small bird appeared and started pecking at the nester. They became very vociferous and began to flail at each other with furious wings. One flew away, the other following, complaining loudly. And they were physical, seemingly aiming for mutual destruction. Such little birds. So fierce. What could induce such hatred? Sibling rivalry? Male rivalry? Unhappy mates? Were they fighting for use of the nest? Why are you stealing my home? I built it with my own beak. Was the wife chiding the husband or vice versa? Did you lose the children? Where were you all this time? What were the possibilities? I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but there was a lethal battle going on, right in front of me. I sat motionless, not a little shocked by the total anger of these little creatures. It continued into the underbrush at the side of the porch with loud screeching. I wondered if I should make a noise to disrupt a possible fatal exchange. They flew back and forth, chasing each other madly. In the moment I thought to stop this terrible example, disruption of the concept of gentle birdhood, both hit the road, so to speak. Not a peep since. The nest remains empty.

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Paul Thiel resides in Kirkwood, Missouri and is currently working on his memoir of life in the turbulent 60’s. Two of the stories have been published, one in Oyez Magazine, the other won the Diana Woods Award from Antioch University. He has published his poetry and essays in various magazines, and has compiled a book of short stories by St. Louis writers called, Under the Arch, which he edited, published, and promoted. He recently was awarded a honorary doctorate from the University of Missouri, St. Louis for his work in the local literary community.