I didn’t see them and something felt deeply, unmistakably wrong.
Two nights ago, while on a walking meditation in the backyard, Alexandra and I stopped to remark upon what appeared to be the flapping of a small wing. Alexandra also swears that she recalls hearing squawking or squeaking. Maybe we also imagined a small mouth opening while pinprick eyes remained shut.
Over the course of several weeks, we’d watched the mother and father slowly build the nest. They’d do it in the mornings, with one flying off to gather a twig, then stumbling into the tree, then crawling clumsily on top of the other, then dropping the twig, and then leaving to do it again. Meanwhile, the builder, the one on whose back the gatherer had gropingly climbed, would move the twig to where it would add greater stability to the nest. The whole thing was quite comical, almost farcical.
In the afternoons, they rested.
And then they stopped and were nowhere to be seen. To us, the nest seemed half-finished and was not an altogether pretty sight. No high sides to speak of. No firm base. A rather flimsy affair, in our opinion. “That’s going to hold multiple eggs? Please.”
No matter because some weeks after they pronounced it done, they had come back. We could observe them taking turns, each sitting in the nest for perhaps 8 or 12 hours at a time. Were they guarding over it to ensure that no other mourning doves would take it? (Why would any dove want to steal that ramshackle thing?) Pray, what were they up to? We didn’t know.
For we couldn’t make out any eggs–not until one morning maybe a week or so ago when I saw a cracked eggshell lying on the ground. So, she had had them after all and had lost one already. I could notice a dull, mild ache somewhere inside me. She was still up there, unaffected.
Every time we were outside, she or he was up in the tree, looking unperturbed. I grew accustomed to checking on her, or him, from out of the master bathroom window, from a few viewpoints in the backyard, at different times of day.
“I was so looking forward to seeing the fledgling in the backyard,” Alexandra lamented. She said this yesterday when, peering up at the nest, we could only make out a disheveled mess. No mother. No father. And no baby.
What broke our hearts were three episodes spaced out in uneven intervals that morning: one dove returned to the nest and in great distress looked around, sensing that something was terribly wrong. A little while later, the same or another dove did the same, its head jerking around in pain, in shock, in disbelief as if asking: “My God, what the hell happened here? And where, where, where’s the baby?” Plain to see is that the mother or father was freaking out. Once more a similar scene replayed itself.
And now as the morning sunlight gleams through the tree, it’s clear that the nest is empty and that the ones who remain have gone elsewhere. Together? Alone?
Was it a hawk, a thief in the night, that turned their life upside-down? A sly roadrunner? To them, it can’t matter. It can’t matter because this year no fledgling, thumping down to the ground, will sit in the corner of our backyard, opening her eyes to the vast Southwestern sky, looking dumbfounded and scared, learning to fly haphazardly, not knowing–maybe never–what all this is all about. It’s all gone.
Any feeling person must ache with the shattering poignancy of barrenness and death.