Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Construction of a Dream

This morning, over coffee, I watch the House Sparrows hop, flit, and puff on the branches and roofs in the neighborhood. My condo is on the second story, and the Ginkgo trees' branches reach toward  my porch giving it a Swiss Family Robinson feel. For the past week, the Starlings and House Sparrows have been ducking in and out of the gutters and tiles of my next door neighbor's roof. They gather bits of string, clumps of leaves, patches of dog fur tumbling across grass like a scene from a Wild West movie--my downtown street has lots of pet owners.

Tis the season for nest making once again. Over the weekend, I asked some family members to list the signs of spring.  That's right, I'm not just a bird nerd but also a total dork.  I track spring like a beagle, my eyes on every new petal, every migratory bird, each new shoot and leaf and flowering plant. Some of their answers: daylight savings time, derby day, graduation, April showers brought May flowers? Yes, I said. All of these are signs of spring.  In my mind, one of my most cherished ritual of spring is watching birds build their nests. It is a time of year where anyone can spot a bird at any time of day. They hustle frantically carrying twigs four times their size. Unwieldy bunches of dead leaves fray at the edges of their beaks as they try to manage the load from ground to branch to nesting location.  Natural and synthetic material are flown in bulk for days until little bumps form rising out of a gutter or a hanging basket. They do it every year. The air becomes electrified with their energetic chirps. I imagine they are chanting some sort of working tune, "whistle while you work."

Humans do the same things. Maybe without all the lovely song. We twine around us not thread or twig, but stone and brick, and sometimes vinyl siding depending on our budget.  What is it in our human nature, our American nature, that dreams of houses to possess. When did owning a construct come to signify success? The accomplishment of a dream? We, too, are part and parcel of the animal kingdom. Yet we are not so comfortable with the loss, destruction, or movement from our constructed homes. Not that we should be. Not that we don't love what we build and love the meaning we assign to those buildings as symbols of our freedom, our success, our power, our domination over every other species on the earth. However, like the tornadoes that barreled through Alabama, our houses are constructions. They are not guarantees to security. The feeling of an unmovable home gives us a sense of security . . . for a time. When our houses are blown to bits like the thin woven fibers of a bird's nest, I ask, is it all a sham? A momentary dream? When we lose what we love and try to remember it before the storms, are we nostalgic for an imaginary construction which was never stable to begin with?

So I watch the little sparrow watch me. He cocks his head to the side and ruffles his feathers as if to say watch and learn burdened human. My nest will be built, it will hold a few eggs, they will hatch, the fledglings will be fed, they will grow, they will fly away, and then, we will too.

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