Along the California coast as the short winter glides into spring, the sunset light changes. The pink blush fades from the scattered cirrus clouds and amphitheater of mountains, to be replaced with a slightly duller, waning day. The evenings do get warmer and the promise of the Ceanothus’ bloom soon covering the mountains in a white frost is well worth the trade off.
It was one of these early spring nights when a few of us were invited to Dave’s apartment warming party. We had all worked with Dave at the library and although it had been about two or three months since he had moved in, the showing off of his current dwelling was the excuse for the gathering. Dave was a recent photography school graduate and his new walls were liberally hung with portraits of his one year old, adorable daughter Natalie. To be sure, he hung a few artistic photographs – abstract things – here and there, but the man was predominately interested in displaying Natalie in different lighting angles, different places amongst the bedding blankets or out in the sunshine in the arms of mother. Baby pictures can be quite intriguing in the hands of a professional photographer. We all enjoyed the evening chatting and munching on the hors d’oeuvres that Dave and his wife Jen had laid out for us. The trumpet of a long past jazz musician emanated from the stereo, red wine was poured and we watched Natalie bounce into the coffee table, reach for forbidden objects to put in her mouth or peer coyly at all of us from around the corner of the sofa. My friend Nicole was there with her husband Dana. Nicole certainly hoped to have children someday and she couldn’t stop giggling at the antics of Natalie in perpetual discovery of her world. It is amazing how sometimes a small child can provide bountiful entertainment for a room full of adults.
Out on his back balcony Dave had a small barbecue fired up. Two or three of us gathered out there as he turned chicken and shrimp kabobs and fat red peppers lined with grill marks. We listened to the marinade hiss as it dripped into the charcoal.
“Now you’re a vegetarian, right Dow?” Dave turned to my friend Dow.
“You thought of something other then bird feed for me, that’s great,” Dow smiled anticipating a little jest.
“Well, we mashed up an extra portion for you, of avocado and bananas that Natalie is so fond of,” Dave explained as he reached for a plate of marinating tofu kabobs.
“Oh, I am so glad you considered my dietary preference. I was hoping of using my adult teeth though.” Dow is always game for a bit of satire.
Dana sipped from his glass of Pinot and looked at the wreath hanging on the wall catty-cornered from the glass sliding door. “I see you still got the Christmas decorations hanging Dave. Are you too fond of the season to let it go?”
Dave shook his head. “No, that’s not Christmas, it’s seasonal, wintertime decorations.”
“Winter doesn’t last long out here. The middle of March and we’re well into spring,” Dana said letting the memories of his Canadian winters fade.
“Yeah well, we haven’t taken it down because we noticed a bird’s nest was being built in the bowl of the wreath.” Dave pointed at the lower part of the wreath where a little dried grass could be seen coming out from behind the evergreen. Everyone smiled and got up to look.
Dave gestured toward the trees with his barbecue tongs, “They fly in with bits of stuff and cram it in with their beaks.”
Jeff, the friend who could be found more often then any of us, hiking the trails in the mountains, hadn’t been saying much as he sat close to the balcony rail and looked out at the Eucalyptus trees draping their silvery thin leaves over the landscape.
“Yeah, they’re black phoebes, I’ve been watching them try to fly in,” he said.
At that moment everybody saw a speeding bullet of a bird head in toward us and then veer off as it succumbed to the fear of human proximity. Jeff looked over at the wreath and then back out at the trees. He stood and pulled a chair up to the wreath, but not too close, and said with a little skeptical curiosity, “Building a nest hunh? They’re acting a little too anxious for just nest building.” He stepped up on the chair and peered down into the wreath with a growing smile on his face. “They’re feeding baby chicks.” Grins of astonishment appeared on our faces as each person took a turn stepping on the chair or standing on their toes to see four baby birds covered in downy feathers tucked down into the nest. The tiny altricial young did not make a sound with only slight twitchings to reveal their aliveness.
Everyone’s voice took on a shade of wonder as they discussed the merits and potential hazards of building a nest so close to human habitation. At some point Nicole put Natalie up on her shoulders and stepped near the wreath pointing at the nest. It took Natalie a whole minute, while her little blond curls wafted in the breeze, before she saw what she was supposed to be looking at. When she saw the baby birds she let out a little yelp of excitement.
We decided to cut the balcony barbecue part of the party short and retreated into the apartment. Who knows how long we held off a crucial feeding. As the evening whined down we had to content ourselves with discussions of our favorite novels or who was going to do what after graduate school, as our source of entertainment Natalie, had exhausted her energy and was fast asleep on Jen’s lap. Occasionally one or two of us would move over to the sliding glass door and peer out at the wreath in order to catch one of the parents feeding the baby birds. We didn’t see much, as the night had poured into the balcony space and concealed the activities of the burgeoning family.
We all left that evening with a touch of wonder at life in its new stages. I never did inquire with Dave how that bird family made out. We figured the merits of that nests location outweighed any detriments and left it at that. Nature celebrates new life not only before our eyes, but also in the secret places folded into our world.