Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Lessons from the Nest - Part 2.

First of all, before I get to my own shortcomings, I'd like to throw my neighbour, Deb, under the bus for the moment. Thankfully, she's up at her cabin right now and probably not connected to the internet, so I have time to make up an exit strategy before her return.

Deb is one of those amazing women who everyone in the city seems to know. She's a firefighter. A mom. An athlete. That fun friend that everyone needs to get them out of bed in the morning and that friend that will get riled UP if any injustice faces a friend of hers. I love those things about her. I love them so much that I have had to overlook the fact that she's, well...a bird killer.

Last summer, her husband, Woody, was trimming back the vines that cover their fence. Deb was concerned that he was going to disturb a robin that was nesting on their fence and she was gently suggesting (ahem...barking orders) at Woody to be careful not to scare the bird or her babies. Deb went over to the fence to check on the birds when the mama and her babies ATTACKED Deb (flapped their wings a little) and Deb reacted as anyone under threat of death by bird would, jumping and flailing. These deadly birds then LAUNCHED themselves at Deb and in doing so, the youngsters ended up on the ground, apparently in an attempt to sever Deb's feet and take her down. Unfortunately for them, Deb's size 10's prevailed and in her dance of death avoidance, she snuffed out the life of the birds she had been advocating to save.

Now, I have judged Deb harshly over the past year for this. I have. I'm not proud of it. So, when I discovered the nest of robins, perhaps the same mama as last year looking for a safer environment to ensure her offsprings' survival, in my front yard...I warned Deb that she was now to take the side gate into my backyard and avoid my front walkway altogether. In fact, the other morning, sitting on her porch having coffee, I was telling Deb and her son, Tazen, that the babies had been hatched and were peeking out of the nest, it was Taz who commented, "Better keep Mom away from those. She's a bird killer." The mouths of babes indeed.

And so, it was with my head hung in shame that I had to grovel via text to Deb yesterday that I had done a "bad thing" in relation to my nest of robins in the front yard. Again, as with Deb, I believe it came from altruistic motivation to help these birds flourish. Yet, in hindsight, it may have been more the fact that I wanted to Instagram the success of my bird family and rub it in her face. Or scare her. Or both. I'm not proud of this. She was NOT gracious in her response and I don't blame her.

So, with great humility, I share this with you. I crept out yesterday with my phone in an attempt to get a photo of these teenaged birds who were fully feathered (and obviously ready to leave the nest sooner rather than later). I may have moved one small branch too close to these skittish junior highers and suddenly, I was in the midst of the fluttering, squawking melee that had been described by Deb as an attack. I understand now how that could feel like a near death experience to someone afraid of birds...but in my mind, I was just concerned with a) how to get the birds back in the nest, b)the mother bird now swooping dangerously close to my head with a piercing shriek, and c) my neighbour across the street who paused to lean back out of the truck he was loading to see what the heck was going on.   I spent the better part of the next hour, capturing and re-nesting, then re-capturing and re-nesting, then ....you get the picture. In the end, one out of three birds was back in the nest. One was totally m.i.a. and the third had parked himself in the backyard bush of a neighbour with his mother swooping interference.

Last night, I watched with great remorse, this poor mama robin flitting around the neighbourhood feeding her now scattered flock. I told Easton I felt I should collect some worms and feed the one in the nest, just to ease her load. He told me he would physically restrain me and I'm not exaggerating when I say that my 13 year old looked at me with undisguised disgust. He knew. I had made her life more difficult. Her one remaining nested baby stood guard on the edge of the nest, with condemnation in her beady little eyes at the one who had caused her to be alone. I felt judged. As I had looked at Deb with horror when she had told me her bird encounter and the blood bath that had ensued. (I have some things to work on here, clearly.) And then I got it.

My empathy had led me to interfere. I hate that I meddled. I hate that my attempts to "help" and improve the lives of these birds, whose lives probably didn't need my improvements, ended this way. Mama bird did not need my umbrella the other day or her babies' pics on Instagram. I laid in bed this morning and listened to the usual chirpy voice of this mama robin, her life made more complicated by me, as she carried on, finding worms, feeding her kids, and basically getting on with it regardless of the circumstances. In that, there's a lesson for me. Or two or three.

One is that empathy and action are often called compassion. But empathy, with the selfish action of making yourself feel better about a situation, is called interference and can lead to greater distress in the lives of those you intended to "help".  Trying to balance the compassion with the selfish desire to "fix" or "help" or "better" other lives is always delicate. I needed the lesson, I'm just sorry that it was at the expense of a hard working mama who is now flitting all over the block to feed her displaced family.

P.S. if you'd like to read about Deb in a positive light...there's this recent write up. She's more than just a bird killer....she's a killer friend and neighbour.


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