For two months, I watched a bird build a nest on a wooden beam over the entrance of the building where I live. It’s an old building, built in 1906 as part of the “American” exhibit for the Lewis and Clark World’s Fair and moved somehow from it’s original location on the riverfront to where it is now, in NW Portland. At one point it served as a hotel and the names of some of the original inhabitants are still carved into the eaves in the basement, under enlarged and framed bills of sale and architectural notations. My unit, large and high ceilinged for this part of town, has wooden floors that are deeply scratched and scarred by everyone who ever spent time in the space. I love to think about their stories. The stories that I don’t know, of the lives of the people who are long gone.
But the bird. The bird is this building’s most recent inhabitant and as I said, I watched her for two months as she collected bits and perpetually refined her home. Coming and going, coming and going. Until one day she stopped. And she sat in her nest a bit higher. Certainly more alert. For weeks I saw her only rarely leave her spot, upright and propped. Then, confirming my hopes, one morning 4 heads, bald except for sporadic and erect lone-ranger feathers sprouting from them, appeared above the nest, obscured whenever their mother returned by 4 enormous, world swallowing, open beaks. Head, beak. Head, beak. Set to the pace of the mother’s efficient departure, return. Departure, return.
One day, maybe two, another bird was there. I presumed him to be the father though I had no biological evidence to prove it. Perhaps there had been 2 all along and I never knew because I couldn’t tell the different. But briefly there appeared to be a family unit. 2 parents, 4 babies.
I watched the babies obsessively when I came and went, came and went from the building. I was terrified that one might fall from the nest. That the loud and jarring close of the heavy door would upset them or worse, inch the nest closer to the edge of it’s bough. That heavy winds or rain could do the same. But the birds appeared to be fine, healthy and growing. Growing fast. Really fast. Warp speed fast. In 4 days the babies looked like birds, albeit especially fluffy and cute ones. And then, on the 5th night, I came home to find all 4 babies spread out, out of the nest, lined up along the beam. When I returned later, only one remained. And again later, none.
And that was all. They were gone. Just like that. All week I’ve looked longingly at the nest, which is growing disheveled from lack of maintenance.
But last night and, just now, this morning, there was a bird in it. I have no idea if the bird is a parent or a baby or another bird entirely who happened, in good fortune, upon a pre-furnished home. But it made my heart skip, seeing the nest occupied once again. I like to think that the bird is one of the babies, grown mature over it’s week abroad, and to wonder about whether the cycle will start again.
I love this structure and the people that over time made this building their home, the birds that have done the same only faster. It reminds me daily both of our interconnectedness and the fleetingness of life, the endlessly transitory state we are all in together. Sometimes this makes me feel lonely. The lonely days tend to be when my son is away and my home is filled only with myself. But most days I feel, as I am, surrounded by life on all sides. I can hear their footsteps above me, the voices behind me as the people come and go, about their days and nights. Sometimes I imagine that I can also hear, like an echo, the living sounds of the ghosts of the building’s past. It is comforting to me.