Monday, May 21, 2012

Wisteria Awakening

Our wisteria plant is a bully. It winds along the guttering, lifting tiles from our roof, and strangling anything within reach. My desire for blooms is strong, but each year we’re lucky if a single flower limps into life. All attempts to encourage fertility have failed. Plant-whisperers prescribe a severe prune, but after the events of last summer it is advice I cannot follow.

Late last spring, when the wisteria was at its most outrageous, a blackbird built her nest in its entanglements: a place few cats would dare to venture. I fancied she was the same blackbird who had perched by our kitchen window to sing the sun down over the previous summer. Perhaps she’d been watching us, and we’d passed some kind of test.  Admittedly the Common Blackbird finds few friends among environmentalists or farmers, but it was impossible to refuse hospitality to one with such a winning song.

Over many days we marvelled as she crafted her home under our eave. She rummaged the garden beds as if at a stock-take sale, showing scant respect for newly swept paths. Other times she would fly in gently, clasping a new accessory in her beak. Slipping deftly between the twisted limbs, the remnant was nestled into her cup-shaped masterpiece. Excitement built as we watched her work from inside the window. And we kept her secret.

One day she did not leave the nest, and we guessed she had laid eggs. Standing tiptoe on the window ledge we could just see her head, and I began checking on her several times each day. We almost kept her secret, except when visitors came to call, and we took to whispering and pointing in her general direction. We were superior to think she had chosen our wisteria under our eave to nest.

Occasionally I would take my afternoon cup-of-tea by her window to keep vigil. Once or twice I gave fright to a snooping cat for the sake of Operation Bird’s Egg, and one afternoon the wind raged so hard that rain rapped the front window. I feared for her and her babies, as for two weeks she warmed her eggs with hope and patience.

I am ashamed to confess that during the following busy mid-December weeks I stopped believing in the babies. Most days I could not see her, giving me to believe motherhood had ended in disappointment or tragedy. Cats sunned themselves, unfettered, on our driveway and I rarely stopped to listen for life in the nest. The front room was hot in the afternoons now, so the drapes were often closed against it. On these days I preferred to sit in an air-conditioned café, or by a swimming pool with my children.

Nobody mentioned our blackbird. She was all but forgotten.

It happened late one morning, a week before Christmas as I sat at my desk. A flickering at the corner of my eye caused me to turn.  And there they were, hopping about the brittle twigs, their bustle so exuberant as to prevent me counting the tiny fledglings. Perhaps there were five or six. They did not linger long, but those few minutes were both gift and lesson.

As guests came and went over the summer I told the story of our blackbird, and the gift I might so easily have missed.

But now wisteria leaves are dropping revealing the vacant nest. I long for flowers: they are the reason we planted this monster in the first place. This plant, however unruly, has now been consecrated for a sacred purpose. I can do without flowers, if only my blackbird will grant me a second chance. Should she choose to return next summer, my promise is that I will be more attentive.

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10 Ways to Embrace Winter
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life experience: the most yawn-worthy qualification in the world

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