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Empty Nest Encore

by | Sep 3, 2013

The crickets are cranking out September music, and the time of goodbyes is upon us. There is nothing around the house that reflects an empty nest more startlingly than a refrigerator. I remember dropping our first daughter off at Wellesley and driving home in anguish because of the ripe red watermelon in the fridge—one she wouldn’t be eating.
Our fridge holds a tin of Evo wild game dog food, a bowl of softened yellow bird treats, and a container of live mealworms. But the little catbird won’t be back to eat any of them.
Of course, that was our aim. Wasn’t it?
Towards the end of August, after her little blue leg splint came off, we anxiously watched to see how strong she might become. Would she be handicapped? Would she ever be able to fly off on her own? The little broken leg had healed straight, but her foot seemed weak. We thought we saw signs of it strengthening.
One day another catbird joined ours in the dogwood tree, conversing loudly. It flew down to the ground and scratched and pecked energetically, as if modeling for our baby bird the kind of ant-hunting we weren’t as well equipped to teach. They spent quite a bit of time together that day, and we were hopeful.
Our bird seemed tiny and frail, but cheerful and content, swooping back for meals every hour or so, from a perch in a nearby cedar that offered a lot of protection.
Scrambled eggs were a big hit.
Meal worms, the fatter the better, were an even bigger hit.

The morning of August20 I was to leave for a ten-day trip. As the catbird fed and perched on my hand, I could feel the strength and warmth in the slender little feet, and I was ecstatic that he had grown to be so healthy. I was pretty sure I would never see her again, that by my return, she would have joined her friend wherever catbirds hang out.
Robby filled a tray with mealworms, set it on the porch railing, and then went to help a friend who was moving. He thought he would be back in a couple of hours, but the move took all day. Little catbird must have been impatient for his return, because that day he flew across Mast Circle to the home of Elaine and Jack Smith. Finding the garage door open, he went in and perched on Jack’s shoulder, apparently inquiring as to where he could find a mealworm. By coincidence, it was the Smiths’ granddaughters Dakota and Rebekah who had brought us the baby bird in the first place.
The next few days, all was well, as Robby was home and the catbird came regularly for worms, even following Robby inside the back door a time or two. But he noticed that the bird was more skittish and no longer lingered to perch on his finger as she had always done before.
And then one day she was gone, back to the wild. It happens just like that.
Couldn’t she come back once a day for a worm, just to keep in touch?
But no.
Until this morning.
We stepped out the back door for our morning walkabout. There was an immediate catbird mew from the tree across the drive, an excited and insistent call that wasn’t about food. We both called back. I walked toward the sound, and could see through the leaves a small gray bird hopping in a familiar way from twig to twig. I got a good glimpse of two tiny legs and feet perching perfectly.
Suddenly the catbird flew straight at me. At the last instant, she veered off and disappeared into the foliage.
Goodbye, little bird.