Schulman: The cycle of life persists in the gritty city
There are baby birds in my backyard. This might not sound extraordinary, but my "backyard" is a communal garden behind a brick apartment building featuring flowers that grow without sunlight. Back here we hear car horns, even a pedestrian argument. The singing of young birds is an unexpected delight.
I noticed the robins' nest perched precariously on the window ledge of apartment 2K. Mama Bird delivered worms to tiny open beaks, then flew away in search of more appetizers, while Daddy guarded the nest in a nearby tree. When Mama returned, Daddy temporarily flew off. But not too far.
"Fathers," I joked to my daughter, "disappear when the feeding needs to be done." My daughter is 19; when she was 8, we watched baby birds leave their city nest, flapping wings from ledge to ledge . . . until they were gone.
Now we check our birds daily, wondering where Mama finds those red worms. "Do you think it's the same family nesting here each time?" my daughter asks.
"Nests aren't handed down like rent-controlled apartments," I say.
Birds are a messy nuisance in the suburbs; in the city, tiny birds are a miracle. Guarding for predators, the parents eye me suspiciously. Never have I spent so much time in the garden. I feel connected, especially because my daughter has returned home from college, after leaving me an empty nester.
The rains come. Not Sandy, but no sun shower either. Worried, we find Mama perched on the nest, shielding her two babies. Drenched! I nursed my daughter through stitches and stomach flus; would I have endured torrential rain for 24 hours?
After the deluge, the babies are gobbling more worms. Look! First day out of the nest, fluttering wings, falling, learning to fly.
That night, one baby is nestled on a bench. It doesn't move -- not even when Mama offers yummy worms. Is it dead? The next morning I check, afraid I'll have to remove a corpse. But it's flown the seat, leaving behind only bird poop. Following the chirping, I spot our baby in a sagging tree. Rejoice! Two days later it flees our garden, its sweet songs muffled amid Rollerbladers and boisterous children. Only a fraying nest remains.
It took 18 years for me to guide my daughter out of the nest, and only one week for our backyard birds. I will miss them all.
Candy Schulman lives in Greenwich Village.