Thousands passed daily, unaware.
They were busy. Busy with life, busy on their cell phones, senses plugged by earbuds or constant chatter, white noise, windows up, closed off, busy. Their loss.
How could they not notice the unfolding of a reality show above them, the inspiration of which I have not experienced in a long time. If ever there was something uplifting it was the daily episode of Life in the Nest of the Mississippi Kite.
For several days in late July, a flock of bird watchers gathered each evening by the side of a busy road near my house. The first night, I thought they were lining up to watch the moon. Odd, I pondered, that that they would perch so close to a busy thoroughfare.
Well, I am curious ever. I stopped by the second night to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out there was a female Mississippi Kite who’d built her nest in a tall, sweet gum tree in a front yard, precariously close to the street and just above some power lines. Until I stopped to inquire, I had never heard of a Mississippi Kite. It’s a hawk, about 12-15 inches beak to tail. They have a wing span of about three feet and I had seen and admired them, soaring high, above the canopy of mature trees in our neighborhood. They don’t call Webster Groves “Tree City, USA” for nothing. I’m in to trees. I’m also in to birds. I have binoculars and the Peterson’s Guide on my back porch.
But these folks, these folks were pros. Although some journals assert that “nesting kites easily tolerate extensive human activity,” the St. Louis birders were a little more wary of the baby hawk hovering somewhat precariously over four lanes of traffic. Do these momma birds all of a sudden have to drop their eggs, the way we duck into bathrooms at the airport? Bad judgement notwithstanding, baby bird was hatched and local birders went on high alert.
For days they gathered, my new friends Jo and Doug, waiting for a glimpse of the bed-headed stranger, hoping to spot his tousled crown poking up over the twigs long enough to snap a pic. I was lucky enough to be watching through the giant camera lens when the momma or daddy swooped down with a snack. They’re progressive that way, these kites, equal opportunity parents who take turns with the kids. Watching them circle and soar, keeping an eye on their baby, was inspiring. Chatting up their envious fan club on the sidewalk was enlightening and fun. The juvenile kites only nest for about 30 days, and every night when I’d turn the corner to go check on the baby, I expected the birders to be gone.
But it was me who had to fly, gathering my brood from California, New York, Kansas and Missouri for a rare family reunion on the North Carolina coast. It was comforting and familiar — the requisite flip-flopped beach treks, swimming in the ocean, power washing sand from every conceivable crevice, cocktails on the porch come evenin’ time, board games and uproarious laughter until the wee hours of the morning, after long, sun drenched days. This is the good stuff.
But there is a sacred place on the north end of this barrier island that I enjoy in solitude. Beyond the drone of the hotel mega-condenser cooling off the patrons at the bar, far enough away from the huffing, puffing joggers, their running shoes slapping the pavement, the high-pitched angry noise from the leaf blowers on the backs of the lawn crew, there is a pristine, quiet, salt-marsh bird sanctuary, protected and managed by the North Carolina Audubon Society. I ride my bike there each time I visit Wrightsville Beach to pay my respects.
Maybe I’m looking for permanence. Maybe I’m seeking reassurance of some kind. Or perhaps, for just one moment, I need to be still. I humbly submit to a pace not set by me, a tiny patch of earth and sea where life, life, life is going on all around me and nary a creature gives a flip about the human in their house. Seabirds fly. Skimmers run and scoop their food, as the barely detectable ebb and flow of the backwater on the marshy sands, recedes enough to reveal some supper. Herons are unhurried. Not so much the crabs, who duck in holes, then pop back out, sunning on thin strands of sand, flexing their claws, like comic book muscle men, their shells opalesque, glinting in the sun. They go about their business, these creatures, unconcerned by the lifetimes of experience constantly clanking in my noggin. But this is a healing place, if I let it. Thousands of days, millions of thoughts, doubts, elation, joy, fear, ecstasy and remorse can escape, if I am willing. Airborne, pain or preoccupation, gives way to peace. Fleeting. I understand this. My salt-march hosts care not one whit.
Home from the coast, the nest is empty. My bird has flown. It clutches my heart, my eyes well with tears. “God speed, be safe, long life,” I whisper.
I am back to reality at a time when the world feels so weary — teenagers shot in the streets, airplanes full of people brought down by missiles, drones exacting their deadly toll as dull-eyed militarists and so-called leaders drone on. I look to the sky. Silent now, save for a prayer in my heart and on my lips for that baby bird’s survival. Ours too.