When This Is, That Is

Exploring the world of conditionality

A Day in the Life of a Robin

We have a jasmine bush climbing up the trellis next to our kitchen window. It is home to two robins’ nests. One of them has been there for about five years. The other is new this season. For the past few weeks I’d been watching the parents flit in an out, most recently with beaks full of food for the two chicks I knew were in the nest. 

Yesterday morning, the chicks fledged. I wasn’t watching for the event. Our two dogs, Metta and Mollie, were in the back yard. Suddenly there came a raucous twittering. Through the dining-room window I saw the parent birds swooping at the dogs, which were paying no attention to the warning attacks. 

Robin and I (now I should mention, for those readers who don’t know, my wife’s name is Robin—no kidding), Robin and I hustled the dogs in and I investigated the jasmine. One of the chicks was perched on a branch inside the bush. The other was nestled in the wood chips and rotting leaves near the deck. We kept the dogs out of the backyard for the rest of the day.

Later in the afternoon I saw one of the chicks running along the back fence. Every once in a while, one of the parents would drop down with food. I saw no sign of the second chick and can only guess about why. In the evening, the one chick was still running around, not yet able to fly. I wondered how it could survive the night if it couldn’t yet fly. Robin captured it and put in back in the nest, thinking it would be safer there during the night. It didn’t stay long, though.

This morning I was surprised to see it still running along the fence. It did survive the night despite the thunder storm and brief downpour. A bit later I went outside to look for it. The dogs were with me. Suddenly, once again, there came the squawking from the parents, which were swooping at Mollie, who just five feet from me had plucked the fledgling from among the ferns.

I shouted at her, and she dropped it. I got both dogs into the house then inspected the chick. It was hunkered down and breathing heavily, feathers ruffled. It spent next several hours like that, moving only a few feet. I felt terrible about what happened, taking it personally. 

Forty years ago, a cat I had got hold of bird. I found it dragging its bloody self around in the yard. I filled a bucket with water and drowned it, thinking it was the right thing to do.  Today, no, it would not be the right thing to do.

Instead, I left it there, thinking it was just in shock (certainly) and would recover (doubtful). Then I went into the kitchen and cracked open a couple of eggs for lunch. The irony was heavy as much as enlightening.

Lives we care about are important and need to be nurtured and protected. Sometimes, lives we don’t care about—even when they are fundamentally the same as those we do care about—are irrelevant and meaningless. And we can conjure all kinds of reasons to justify our disregard. 

I checked in on the fledgling a little while ago, perhaps four hours after the attack, giving it a little prod. It gave a weak but encouraging flapping of wings and went after my finger with it’s beak. Then it scampered a couple of feet. I left it alone, and moments later one of the parents swoop down with some food. 

That was an hour ago or more. Since then, I haven’t seen the parents. Since then, I’m sure the bird will not survive the night.

5 Responses to A Day in the Life of a Robin

  1. @TWF: It is pretty arbitrary how we assign value to things—even people. The more I dig into such things, the more I see just how this is so. Sometimes I feel a touch of sadness around it all.

  2. TWF says:

    Argh. Missed it again, but this time I have an excuse. I kind of view the pro-life stance the same way. OK, it’s not a great excuse for missing the goal of your theme here, but it’s something. 😉

    Personally, I actually side more with Sabio‘s take on the realization that it’s all a little arbitrary makes me love less, or rather that I don’t concentrate much on making new friends but instead cling tight to the very few I have. I’d rather be true to a few than a little something to many, and I consider myself fairly rich in life that way. The notion of hope I have is that it this would suggest helping someone out of a depression, or helping someone live a meaningful life, may be as simple as just being a good friend.

    But back to your theme here, I think you’ve worded your post very well to get people thinking in terms of these arbitrary assignments of worth and meaning of a life worth preserving if they hadn’t thought of it before in that light. Such a subtle approach is probably ideal for your purpose; encouraging diverse thought in a way which would not automatically spin up the defense mechanisms.

  3. @TWF: Arbitrary, yes. And I agree, our lives are as rich or as lean as we are able to define them.

    @Sabio: I hadn’t thought about the tribalism aspect, but I do see this little bird as mine—not mine, exactly, but something I’m involved with. I see what you mean by relaxed sympathy. It’s hard to care about everything. But… I did have a specific theme in mind, which I only alluded to in the paragraph about my cracking of the eggs (I cut out the more overt references before publishing): Whereas the pro-lifers feel driven to protect the unborn, they don’t seem to concern themselves with the human toll of war, the death penalty, and myriad other instances of “man’s inhumanity to man.”

    It was just a subtle, well-disguised socio-political statement.

  4. Sabio Lantz says:

    To me, the inspiration does not leave me wanting to love more, but to love less. I realize how tied up my notion of care is with a tribal idea of “belonging to me”. If this relaxes, I care less, but I care more sincerely. It is not cynicism, it is relaxed sympathy, pragmatic compassion.

    Then my son scrapes his knee and all that philosophy goes out the window.
    Like cracking an egg for breakfast.

    Fun story, thanx.

  5. Nice reflection. The difference between what is meat and what is met… what is left and what is loved… at times is so arbitrary that it is amazing that we can call ourselves rational with a straight face. But perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there: the richness of our lives is but a matter of our own definitions. Therein lies some hope, I think.

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