Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Our resident wren's new home
We now have a resident wren, one that has made its home in a hanging pot containing a strawberry plant on our back porch. It’s either a Carolina Wren or a House Wren, but it darts away so swiftly that I’m unable to examine it closely. However, I know it’s a wren, and this identification of the small bird comes not from my copy of The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds, but from my memory of the picture of a wren in an old linen-paged book about birds my mother bought for me during pre-school years. It’s true that I could only identify cardinals, robins, blue jays, wrens, and crows after looking through this beautiful children’s book, but looking at it inspired me to deeper study of the bird kingdom. The book was eventually stolen from our van at a Motel 6 in Albuquerque, New Mexico when we were taking a load of books to my grandchildren in California back in the 80’s, but the pictures are etched in my memory. My mother loved birds and bought me my first set of binoculars, and I’ve passed on the hobby of bird watching to my youngest daughter Elizabeth who keeps binoculars and a field guide to birds on a table in her den.
After a light rain last week, I discovered potting soil scattered on the back porch and thought a deer had been foraging for the strawberries in the hanging pot, but the following morning, I saw a small, compact wren bringing a leaf to the pot and knew that it was settling in with us. She eyed me while she buried the leaf in the pot and finished her task before flying away for more nest lining. Although I’ve spied on the wren for several days, I haven’t heard the gurgling or bubbling song that wrens make during breeding season. Some sources report that the song is loud and insistent and that it’s difficult for one to believe that such a small bird can project such volume.
My friend Vickie, the consummate bird identifier, wants to take down the pot to study the nest, but I’m reluctant to disturb my short-winged friend. I think that it forages for nest material (and insects) beneath the tall hemlock in the yard as I’ve seen it moving through the tree’s lower branches during early morning.
Wordsworth wrote a lengthy poem praising the wren, but I prefer the Japanese poems about flora and fauna. Issa, one of the most renowned poets writing in the Japanese haiku tradition, penned these lines about our undaunted bird friend who’s building a home on our porch:
    “fighting the mountain wind
     on foot…
     a wren.”
I can easily envision my small friend climbing up the mountains near Sewanee, fighting the fierce winds that frequently blow through, to reach the Cumberland Plateau…and, ultimately, my back porch.
Issa, whose name means Cup-of-Tea, wrote haiku during the 19th century and used Buddhist ideas about grace, compassion, and, in the case of our house wren, “joyful celebration of the ordinary,” wandering the Japanese countryside, composing haiku about such ordinary subjects as birds battling the elements. 
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