The robin paced my van for almost a full block. Side by side we traveled together, me on the radial, her on the wing. She seemed to hover just outside the driver’s side window. Was she attracted to the red paint of my minivan? Could she see her own burgundy feathers reflected there?
I stole cautious glances at her, mindful of any approaching traffic in my early morning mountain town. Mist still clung to the road and buildings, giving testament to our ‘smoky mountains’ moniker. The gray feathers of the robin’s wings glistened with moisture as she held tightly to a sturdy piece of garden twine destined to become part of her nest.
“Look, son,” I said to my five-year-old. I tapped on the glass of my window. “Look there. See the robin?”
“Whoa,” he said with evident appreciation. “That’s amazing.”
Amazing. At the beginning of this school year he would have left it at whoa. Maybe pretty. But now it’s the end of May, and he is growing faster than any of spring’s foliage. He is a big boy with big words and enough experience to realize the gift of our traveling companion.
“I need to finish my card for Mrs. Downs,” Torin says.
“Don’t rush, honey. You have plenty of time.”
Our gift for his teacher (and his sister’s teacher three years earlier) is beside me in the passenger seat. He has labored over her card, sticking his tongue out in concentration while wrestling his pencil against paper. The “w” in his teacher’s name is a long mountain range, but I will never correct him. His “love” is so big that the arms of the e stretch wide off the edge of the paper. In the middle of the card is his masterpiece: Mrs. Downs has been elevated to the rank of knight. In her right twiggy fingers she holds a shield, in her left is an erasable marker.
She will understand the magnitude of her portrait and the too big love.
I look to the robin again, unable to believe how long she has allowed us to watch her. At that moment she glances toward me, pumps her wings once, twice, and wheels away from us. It is time for her to return to her labor of nest-building, of home-making.
I feel blessed to have shared my morning with her. I wonder, too, if we share more. In her future lies the clamor of hungry mouths, the exhaustion of constant vigilance, and the joy of watching her hatchlings grow strong in her care. Will she marvel at their naked frailty when they arrive? Will she note each adult feather as it appears? And, when they finally try their wings for the first time, will she feel the same fierce pride and resignation, knowing they are mastering all the skills they will need to one day leave her nest behind?
I park for the last time in the preschool lot. Behind me, Torin unbuckles like a pro, already hooting helloes to the little girl climbing out of the backseat of the car next to us. I grab his teacher’s gift and glance around the parking lot to look for other vehicles.
“Be careful,” I say to my son. “Stay close to me.”
“I’m OK, mom.” He shrugs on his red backpack and we walk, hand in hand, into the school.
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