June 06, 2020

Family of phoebes offers creative gift: a lasting memory

Mid-April arrived and with it a single phoebe, a gray-brown bird with a whitish neck and breast. I watched her perch at the top of the twig arbor I built last summer and placed at the edge of the lawn. She seemed to be taking inventory – the nearby lilac, the forsythia and honeysuckle bordering the east side of the house, the porch railing and the wire running from the back of the neighbor’s house to a utility shed. Her tail moved in quick staccato flips. Then she flew up to the eaves at the corner of my house. She looked it over and apparently found it good.

By the first of May, Mrs. Phoebe had found a Mr. Phoebe. Soon, a whole lot of weaving was going on in that corner of the eaves.

One morning, as I left for work, I noticed what appeared to be a wispy clump of moss tucked into the corner of the eaves. When I got home early that evening, I found a fully formed nest. Mrs. Phoebe had woven it in a matter of hours, creating a beautifully sculptural shape with her beak as her only tool.

With my binoculars I saw that the nest was held together with mud and moss – maybe even bird spit. Just looking at it put me in the mood to craft something of my own and I thought rather gleefully of the old phrase “to feather one’s nest.”

Yes, life is like that, especially if you have lots of yarn and fabric and other stringy stuff stashed away just waiting to be transformed into something cozy and useful.

After the nest was built, Mr. and Mrs. Phoebe flitted back and forth from nest to lilac to arbor to wire, and occasionally to the antenna of my car. Then one day I noticed that Mrs. Phoebe was spending most of her time sitting on the nest while Mr. Phoebe darted around in the air catching flies.

Whenever I opened the door of my house, Mrs. Phoebe flew away to the sanctuary of the lilac. I worried that the eggs she surely had laid in the nest would not hatch because her sitting time was interrupted.

I worried in vain. About two weeks later, I saw that both phoebes were ferrying back and forth to the nest in a flurry of trips, each time with flies in their mouths.

I couldn’t really see the babies, but I could see a fringe of fluff above the rim of the nest, which I assumed were the heads of baby birds. This proved to be true and within 10 days, the three babies had grown so large they no longer fit easily in the nest. Each time I went out on the porch to peer at them, they froze like tiny statues, pale beaks pointed in the air, not a blink coming from any beadlike black eye.

Mr. and Mrs. Phoebe kept a sharp eye on my comings and goings. Whenever I was out in the yard digging in the flower beds or yanking weeds out of the peony beds, they perched in the lilac checking to see if I was friend or foe.

From the time phoebe eggs hatch until the babies fledge is about two weeks. I knew the time for the babies to leave the nest was drawing near by the way the parents were acting. On the evening of June 20, I surveyed the nest through binoculars. The baby birds, now decked out in adult plumage, were scrunched into the nest. One of the parent birds flew to the nest, stopped a moment then flew away. Several minutes elapsed and suddenly, all at once, and all together, the baby birds darted from the nest and flew, with a certain awkward, juvenile grace, to the top of the maple in the backyard. Just like that, they were gone. And, glory be, I was there to witness it.

Phoebes often raise two families each season. As of June 24, Mrs. Phoebe was back on the nest again and I have the pleasant anticipation of watching another brood hatch and fledge.

You might think this particular column isn’t about creating stuff. But you’d be wrong. What we create isn’t always made of such tangibles as cloth and thread.

We create moments of memory in our lives, braiding together strands of time and experience, by being present in the right place at the right time. We weave into our souls the joy of watching small brownish birds in flight, weaving their nest, nurturing young, adorning the yard, the air, the lilac with the beauty of their forms, the music of their voices and the mystery of their being.

Come winter, what the phoebes created in the eaves of my house, and in my mind, will stay woven tightly in my spirit to nurture me through the cold season until the birds come home again.


. Allaire Diamond, a graduate student in plant biology at the University of Vermont, is seeking basket makers and dyers who use plants, mushrooms and lichens as the basis for natural dyes with which to color their products. To learn more or to share lore with Diamond, call 802-879-6672 or e-mail allaire.diamond@uvm.edu.

. Deborah Mason is seeking a fiber artist, possibly a weaver, to volunteer as artist in residence at Hewnoaks, a resort at Kezar Lake. To obtain more information, call 928-2536 or e-mail debstoneham@fairpoint.net.

. If you wear flip-flops from spring to fall, visit www.knitty.com to find a free pattern for socks that don’t have toes. I know it sounds strange – socks without toes – but then again, it makes a lot of sense. Icy blasts from air conditioning in public places can give feet a chill, but with toeless socks one can retain the flip-flops and the summer mode while the rest of the foot stays warm.

. Jo-Ann store in Bangor will offer free demonstrations in paper crafting 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, July 5; a kid’s make it and take it, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, July 12; and sewing with Simplicity (patterns, this is) 1-3 p.m. Saturday, July 12.



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