Sometimes you get to see an entire life cycle, to feel as old as a mountain as forests rise and fall at your toes. At our house this meant watching a pair of red house finches build a nest under the eaves of the garage, lay eggs, and then hear the desperate “peep peep peep” of hungry baby birds. Child Harbat and I saw all this, delighting when momma bird flew away long enough for us to take a look at the tiny babies.
In just a few weeks the babies could barely fit in the nest, all feathers and hungry mouths and jostling. Teenagers, sheesh!
Then one day I saw a scared little finch sitting on the pool cover right at the edge of the pool, just a few feet but impossibly distant below the nest. Whether it jumped or fell I don’t know but I donned gloves and placed the tiny one back in the nest where it hid its head in shame while its sibling took a brave quick flight away to a climbing vine on the fence. Good, they were just learning and I got to see their first flights.
But the next day there was a tiny grey fluffball under the nest. One had died, reasons unknown. I called out CH to take a look. “Poor thing, poor thing. Babbo, can I touch it?” At first a gentle poke, then a stroke of the feathers smaller than a fingernail, then she picked up the dead baby bird to look closely.
A suitable funeral nest was assembled and CH got to see death up close. Not scary, not evil, just another step in this one bird’s existence. “I feel really sad about that cute little bird but it was pretty beautiful.”
We forestalled burial by 2 days by covering the box with a rug while I wondered about neighborhood skunks and cats and other curious critters, but the bird was left alone to make the transition to dust. This afternoon we buried it, making the hole just the right size, and CH scattered on the first handfuls of dirt. “She can be here in heaven and buried next to the bunnies so they can be friends.” Her guess is as good as mine, as good as anyone’s. We made a small cross, tamped down the dirt, and CH told me that you should bow at a grave. First she bowed, hands at sides, stepped back, and I thought we were done. But there was one more thing she wanted to do for this baby bird, one last kindness.