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08 / autumn : letting go

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I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

the CULTIVATING

journal

The Parable of the House Wren

September 28, 2019



 

Once upon a time, near a farmhouse nestled in the foothills, there was a Little House Wren. She had a mate and the two of them began their family in an old birdhouse on a fencepost that stood on the edge of a beautiful vegetable garden, surrounded by sunflowers. But as the eggs grew in her, a darkness grew in him. The male Wren began looking out of the little hole in the birdhouse, watching every bird that flew by with suspicion. He would chirp to his mate about the lack of food in their area and how the other birds were going to consume all the resources that were rightfully theirs. The Little House Wren loved her mate and she wanted her little ones to eat well and not starve, so her heart grew more fearful with each twig placed in another bird’s nest.

The night the little house Wren laid her eggs, before she could lovingly sit on them, her mate squawked his terrible plan to ensure their children’s safety. The two of them would fly to every nest within their territory, wait for the nests to be unguarded, then they would peck at the other eggs until they broke. When the Little House Wren resisted, he scolded her for not caring for their family and insisted that she must choose between her eggs and another’s. Convinced that this was her only choice, she chose her own.

Their beaks soon dripped with the broken hopes of other birds. They were small and quick so no one saw them fly in, and no one saw them leave. …no one except the serpent. There was an old bull snake who had taken to the less difficult task of egg snatching. The nest near his hole, the one he had been watching all spring, a robin’s nest… had nothing more to offer than dried broken shells for the hungry old snake. He tried another nest a little further off to the same result. But from the branches of the fourth empty nest the weakening old snake saw two little birds flying out from a nest in the next tree, chirping quickly and flapping as two other larger birds glided into the nest. There was silence, and then the mournful song he knew all too well of birds who had lost their eggs to intruders. These little birds were responsible for his empty stomach. If he could not survive on eggs, he would die striking against these new enemies. He slithered down the tree, and following the flight path of the little birds, moved towards the garden wall.

Night fell and as the snake passed a large patch of sunflowers. He heard that now familiar chirping as he looked up at a little wooden birdhouse on top of a post. Inside the house the two Wrens planned their next attack. It would be against the Kingbirds that had taken up residence in the tree branches over the roof of back porch of the farmhouse. All the nests they had attacked had not given them a stronger sense of safety. In fact, the male Wren began talking about how they should widen their attack. He chirped loudly as he hopped back and forth, and neither of them heard the thump against the side of the house, and neither of them detected the glimmering eyes of the head that then flashed fourth into the house, grabbing the male house Wren by the wing. The snake drug him out into the dark and the Little House Wren flew frantically after. She could not see in the night so she darted back and forth, as she heard thrashing somewhere in the vegetation. Then everything fell silent. Her warm body turned cold as she looked back towards her home and saw the tail of the snake, slithering back through the hole! Frantically she flew, wildly she pecked, she screeched in a rage and scratched with her claws, but it was no use. The snakes body filled the entry hole and he would not budge. Her eggs would not be saved.

The Little House Wren spent the rest of the night atop a utility pole, frozen inside and out. She did not see the snake leave. She did not see the sun rise the next morning and she did not see the sun return to its nest the next night.

It would be hard to tell what roused the Little House Wren three days later. Was it a chill on the wind? Was it the dandelion seed that blew in with it and caught on her wing? Maybe it was the tickle of a caterpillar crawling over her foot. But whatever form grace took, the Little House Wren opened her eyes again and blinked in the new day.

She returned to her house and set it in order. Not as one making a place to live, but as one preparing a tomb for her heart and a museum of things lost. She collected all the feathers she could from where her mate fell and put them in one corner. And then she arranged all the eggshell pieces in another. She would sit in the far corner and stare and mourn and long for the end of her days. But her days would not end then. The next morning, she opened her blank, speckled white ringed eyes to the light of the morning and found herself out on the perch that extended from underneath the birdhouse entrance.

The morning was still. But there was a presence in this stillness. A presence only a… mother feels.

Against all the brokenness and sorrow and emptiness, a pull… an instinct… an indescribable sensation beckoned her forth. She fluttered to the ground and looked around with a sense of urgency she had not known since… and then she saw it. Tucked into a cleft in the rock wall, behind some tall blades of grass she could make out the soft, unmistakable down of a fledgling. Its head buried under its wing and its body shaking with fright. She looked closer and saw a soft yellow on its chest. It was one of the Kingbird young. She looked long and hard at it. The fledglings eyes slowly peaked out of its wing. Their eyes met. And the Little House Wren flew back to her birdhouse and sat in her corner again.

As the Wren flew out the next morning to get her breakfast, she could just see the tail of the fledgling tucked shakily into the cleft of the rocks. She caught a fat grasshopper and flew to the top of the utility pole to eat it, taking no note that this was the first thing she had eaten in days. From there she could see her house, the garden, the yard, the porch of the farmhouse, and the nest of the Kingbirds, the nest where the Little Lost Fledgling must have come from. In it sat two little fat Kingbird fledglings, bickering over a worm. One would try to push the other away, and the other would push back. When the mother Kingbird flew in with more food, these fat babies screeched and hollered as if they had never eaten before and were afraid they would never eat again. She could see by the discarded fly wings and half nibbled mantis legs that this was not the case. But the Little Lost Fledgling made no such noises though it certainly must be hungry. Hungrier than its overstuffed siblings – who may have been responsible for its fall from the nest. The Wren flew back to the garden wall and sat on a watering can. She saw the father Kingbird fly above the garden. She saw that it could see it’s Little Lost Fledgling. Birds know the language of feathers and flight, and his was sad but resolute. She remembered her mate once told her that he would not expose their healthy children to any sick children. And that any sick or malformed children had to be driven from the house to keep from infecting the rest. She agreed, but the longer she at on her eggs, the less she could imagine herself pushing any of them out. If this little fledgling was sick, it was certainly best to stay away. The little bird was not of her nest, nor of her family nor of her species and was already bigger than she! She resolutely flew back to the little house and sat in her corner. Her eyes passed over the pile of feathers she collected of her fallen mate. Then they passed over to the pile of shells of the eggs of the children the snake had taken from her. And then she remembered… She was the serpent. In a frantic panic to save her family she had destroyed the eggs of so many other mother birds that had nested in their territory. Her actions were the wound for others and the sorrow and sadness of birds just like her, now keeping vigil over their own empty nests. All at once she felt the full weight and consequence of her actions. She curled up in her little corner and was unable to sleep that night.

The next morning as she looked out her threshold and saw the old mutt that lived in the farmhouse roaming the yard, sniffing everything, ‘marking’ everything else and slowly making his way closer and closer to where the Little Lost Fledgling hid. Without hesitation, the Little House Wren burst out and flew straight for the old dogs nose. She pecked it so firmly that the dog let out a yelp and fell backwards! Again and again she swooped at his head, causing him to retreat back towards the house. Perhaps it was guilt that drove her to protect the little one she would otherwise have smashed had it not been for the loss of her own. Perhaps it was a mother’s love, a formidable force of nature. Or perhaps it was nothing more than biological instinct. No magic to it. Whatever it was, the Little House Wren now set herself to care for the Little Lost Fledgling.

 

A small praying mantis climbed up a tomato plant. The Little House Wren quickly and skillfully snatched it up and carried it back to the rocks beneath her house. She hopped down and in spurts of flutters and skips, made her way carefully to the cleft in the rock. The Little Lost Fledgling saw her, then the little insect that she held in her beak. Reflexively the fledgling’s mouth dropped open and moved as if it was crying out to be fed… but no sound came out. She hopped a little closer, clucking softly. The fledgling’s head tipped back slowly. She hopped to his side, fluttered up, and dropped the insect into his mouth and flew away. With each bug offered and received, the Little Lost Fledgling’s eyes grew lighter and the Little House Wren’s heart grew ever so slowly warmer. She could not have taken the little one to her house – even if she wanted to, and she wasn’t sure she did. It was about two times her size. But feeding it seemed to bring them both something they had lost. When night would come the Little House Wren watched over the fledgling from her perch. A cat from the house down the road came through the yard one night. Though she thought the tall grass in front of the cleft would shield the Little Lost Fledgling well, the Little House Wren still held her breath when the cat passed near the fledglings cleft. The cat sniffed a little and kept walking by.

Though exhausted from her night-watch, the Little House Wren would still find food for the fledgling. Tired wings took longer in the gathering, but the Little Lost Fledgling did not voice any reproach… nor anything at all. Grubs and ants and grasshoppers and a berry or two and the occasional seed, all were welcomed with a growing sense of joy from the little one tucked in the cleft of the rock. That night, she trusted that it was able to secure itself tightly enough, so she let herself fall asleep.

A week passed and the Little Lost Fledgling was now moving out into the open during the day. It would hunch down into a ball at the slightest unfamiliar sound but when it felt safe, it would flutter its growing wings and hop a little though it seemed to favor its right side. On the final day they had together, when she brought in the first of her catering, the Little Lost Fledgling did something she never expected. It saw her fly in, and, it peeped! It made the noise that other little birds make when they are hungry! It opened its beak wide and lifted its neck and it peeped a beautiful wonderful melodious peep! She gathered twice as many grubs that morning. Nature is beautiful and wondrous.

 

Nature is also dangerous and sometimes it can seem so cruel. The Little House Wren flew on new wings of joy as it gathered and fed… her little one that day. She chittered like she hadn’t since she was young and she swooped and glided on the breeze. Knowing there were some delicious mulberries on a tree much further away, she flew off to fill her and her little one’s bellies with the tasty fruit. She had not noticed the darkening skies, as the clouds rolled in quickly, and as she first ate her fill of the berries, she did not feel the first few raindrops. When she left the mulberry tree, a torrent of water suddenly fell from the sky. It knocked the berries she carried from her beak and the large droplets dampened her wings and pummeled her tail, sending her flopping and falling into a bush. There was an old rusted automobile abandoned in that same field, and with all her strength she flew furiously towards it, collapsing on the ground underneath the right fender. The Little House Wren hopped around anxiously underneath her rusty rain guard until she heard a small ‘splash’. She looked down to see water flowing across the ground! The rain had filled the ditches and now spilled over across the land. She fluttered up to the cars undercarriage and shivered for her little one, trapped and exposed as the rain and hail and wind beat against everything that rose above the ground. The rain and hail stopped as suddenly as it began. Everything was still except the water that ran off and slowly receded from the landscape. With drenched wings and tail, she began her anxious flight back. The sun came out and warmed her enough to flap loose much of the droplets, giving her speed and strength.

When she got back to her little birdhouse she saw, to her great sorrow, that there was no little bird in the cleft of the rock. It was not to be found among the grass nor the fence posts nor anywhere in or near the garden. She flew back and forth, poking her beak under bushes and behind flowerpots and tomato plants and anything else a little fledgling might take refuge behind. The water ran steadily down the sloped garden, slowly forming back into irrigated rows and then spilling out into the pasture before flowing down into the ditch. A few birds flew overhead. She looked up with hope that maybe her little one would have found its flight. These birds were red. Another pair were blue. She noticed a tuft of yellow on a tree by the porch and began to fly towards it just as a second tuft of yellow fluttered to the branch. The two fat Kingbird fledglings began bickering with one another about their placement. She glided back down to the garden and from the cleft, followed the stream of water out into the field and then to the ditch. She followed the edge of the ditch for a mile or so, chittering her call until she saw a little yellow feather stuck in the weeds. She flew quickly over to grab it and… saw the body of her little one washed up on an embankment. The resting place of the Little Lost and Found Fledgling had purple flowers growing on the slope of the ditch and twigs that caught in front, crossing over as if to protect it. She stood there in a silent vigil until the sun began its decent. Then she touched its wing one last time, grabbed the yellow feather from the weeds and flew back to the little birdhouse and laid the yellow feather down in the corner with the pile of eggshells.

There were many days after where the Little House Wren would fly back to the utility pole to mourn the loss of her children. She would peck angrily at the pole and squawk at the passing clouds and fluff her feathers defiantly at the warmth of the sun. But then there were more days than not that she found herself still gathering for two. And whenever she flew past another young bird, she would fly over and drop the insect or seed or fruit into its mouth. Little chickadees and robins and finches and magpies and even the two fat little Kingbirds, who continued to quarrel wherever they flew, all these and more were fed by the Little House Wren. She didn’t take another mate, and she never made another nest. She also did not treat the territory around her as a thing to guard and keep others out of but rather as the realm of her care. Anything that fell within her territory, was hers to make flourish and to feed. Not every story she entered would end well.

Not every little one she would bring grubs to would go on to become healthy flourishing birds. But until they did or until they were gone, she would continue.

That farmhouse yard nestled in the foothills would hear more birdsongs, varied and beautiful and lively that would carry for miles around. All because of a Little House Wren.



Authors Note:

Believe it or not, much of what you have read was observed and inspired by nature unfolding itself on our land in the foothills of Colorado.

The story of the little House Wren caring for a fledgling Kingbird that had fallen out of its nest is absolutely true! We watched at a distance for days, as this little House Wren took to caring for this much larger fledgling! And we were brokenhearted when the little Kingbird did not survive a sudden massive thunderstorm. We found its body afterwards and saw that it may have been sick as well. We buried it in the garden under a cross made of little branches and draped it with purple flowers.

The backstory of the little House Wren was inspired by two sources. We were curious to know if this was a natural thing for House Wrens to do and from what we found it is most certainly NOT! In fact, we read that House Wrens were known to actively destroy nests and break eggs of other birds found in their territory! The sad tale of the snake and the eggs happened in our front yard with a nest of Robins that we had eagerly been watching. Believe it or not, this happened earlier the same day we first saw the House Wren feeding the fledgling Kingbird! One of the parent Robins did sit alone on top of a utility pole for hours afterwards.

And yes, the two fat little Kingbirds are real. They were observed in the Kingbird nest when we were trying to figure out where the little fledgling had come from. And a few days after we buried the little fledgling, they were seen sitting on a branch being fed by their mother AND the little House Wren.

This little House Wren chitters encouragement to me in many ways and maybe she encourages you too. I don’t know what application God may have for you here, but I guarantee it’s much better than any I would try to attach to it. So, I will end things with the satisfaction of getting to share the true tale of a heroic House Wren, who went against her territorial instincts to care for a lost little Kingbird.

If that’s not a parable, then I don’t know what one is!

The images in this parable are (c) Adam R. Nettesheim and are used with permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.



 

Adam R. Nettesheim

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