Who’s Guarding the Nest?

By cracking open a crusty eye, I am able to gage the light spilling into the curtainless room, and calculate the time as a smidgen past 6:00 am. I slip quietly out of bed on this crisp morning so as not to wake my husband. It’s strange, after fifty some years I simply forgot how to sleep, I say why fight it when there’s coffee to enjoy, and a lavish view to contemplate. 

Dragging a few fingers through my tangled hair is fruitless, I grab a dark blue sweatshirt from the closet with the words Lake Girl embroidered on the front, and wiggle into it as Shaggy attempts to trip me on my way to the kitchen. This is his way of reminding me to procure his breakfast before considering any of my own needs. 

Multitasking is the best approach, grab his bowl as an appeasement, switch on coffee maker, lift a hearty mug out of the cupboard, dump two scoops into his bowl from the pantry, shut door with my bare foot, push the brew button as I place his laden bowl by the back door, and race to the restroom as my coffee is bubbling into being. 

I call this my intimate morning dance with unusual instrumentals, twirling to an imaginary tempo, feeling the embrace of something sacred, I make my way outside, hot mug in hand, in search of that which remains ever so illusive.

Rachel Held Evens says when God shows up, it’s in the thick of things, in which I have been entangled. I guess the best way to explain myself is with a story, as we are made in the image of a great story teller, and this is how I like to unravel the things I so carefully convolute. 

It might be helpful to know we’ve been rearranging containers at the lake all weekend, moving planters from the front to the back, brainstorming the dynamics of shade and how to get more of it, relocating a tree from the nursery in town to our home, and I admit all this shifting has altered my perspective.

This morning I saunter over to our newly planted tree to speak a few encouraging words, I believe words can be a potent as fertilizer, without all the shit. Bonding with a tree is not easy, but it happens, especially after I saved her sorry neck yesterday. So here’s my version of events, exactly as they unfold, no detail unimportant, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is known to say, God is in the details.

Go ahead, refill your coffee, I’ll wait.

For those of you behind on the blog, let me fill you in, Larry has been leaving his beloved Mustang convertible up at the lake due to my birthday snafu, when he finally came to his senses (you can catch up here), and followed me up to the lake in a separate car. 

Yesterday Larry said, “let’s take a ride to Lakeport in the convertible, pick up a few things at Mendo Mill, and we’ll see if we can find that fruitless mulberry you’ve been pining for? I just showered and washed my hair because I thought he was taking me wine tasting this afternoon, but I agree, because I want to get that tree planted before the summer gets into full swing. I’ll just clip up my hair, it’ll be fine…

After grabbing a few supplies at the hardware store, we pick out a beautiful striking mulberry at the nursery, but the owner doesn’t have his truck on site, and can not deliver? Let me paint a really clear picture so there won’t be any misunderstandings, the tree is huge, we are driving a convertible, and our options are rather limited.

This is how it goes down, I get sequestered in the back seat, which is really more of a ledge with no foot space, the tree is wedged in the front seat (formerly my space), my legs are shoved between the bucket seats as I attempt to hold the container in place with my feet (thank God I’m endowed with enormous trotters), and with my hands I’m required to hold the trunk of our darling mulberry all the way home, so she doesn’t break her slender neck. 

I find myself in a virtual wind tunnel, my hair is whipping my face so violently it’s as if there’s a private eco system erupting in the back seat, and with every ounce of strength I fight to maintain my grasp on the slim trunk for the entire 30 minute drive back to the lake house. Thank God I’m stuffed in here like a damn sardine or I’d be sucked out by this virulent vacuum. Absolute hell. On arrival I am drenched in sweat, I look like Cousin Itt from the Adam’s Family, and my arms are shaking so badly I couldn’t hold a glass of wine if my life depended on it.

Larry slips coolly out of the shaded drivers seat protected from the wind, reaches back to “help” me out, and just about pees his pants when he sees me. I am not amused. 

Anyhoo…that was yesterday, he tried to placate me by taking me out to dinner and grabbing a movie, the large tub of popcorn with butter was helpful, and I should mention the nice back rub he bestowed upon me when we got home. He knows my weaknesses and is ever so capable of putting this knowledge to good use.

So here we are, early morning, I’m strolling by the recently relocated planters, making my way to our sweet tree, when I notice a worried duck is squatting in the ivy, tucked beneath the meager shade of the geraniums. She looks at me, gaging the probable harm, I talk softly to her, and she sort of ruffles her feathers, but stays put, and just beneath those warm feathers is a light blue egg.

Now it may be of no interest to you, but there is also a female duck parked on an egg in the other planter on the opposite side of the patio, and just like that my deck has become a maternity ward? I suddenly have the urge to boil water.

All this new life is in juxtaposition with my current obsession with death. It started on May 19th, with my brother-in-law David who shares my birthday, only this year he celebrated his in heaven, whereas I toasted us from the lake (his favorite place), with a generous pour of red wine. He would have turned 60 this year. Then my Dad’s birthday coincides with the passing of one of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans, whose been inspiring me for years as she writes about faith, doubt, and life. And next week marks the second year of my sweet Mom’s passing.

There is a pile of books on the side table, waiting patiently for my return, I’ve been reading Rilke lately, because he writes about things beyond my comprehension. He says, “I am not saying that we should love death, but rather that we should love life so generously, without picking and choosing, that we automatically include it in our love (Is he really saying we should love death?). This is what actually happens in the great expansiveness of love, which cannot be stopped or constricted. It is only because we exclude it that death becomes more and more foreign to us and, ultimately, our enemy.” (Obviously the answers I search for can’t be found in a book but that doesn’t keep me from trying.)

This is where I fail, picking and choosing that which I wish to see, deafly ignoring the rest, and therefore becoming my own worst nemesis.

According to Rilke death is simply a part of life and should be “generously loved” along with the ducklings and the trees. Now that I think about it, I love things that grow, as opposed to things that diminish. Wasn’t it my children who helped me grow, expand, and finally understand my greater purpose. 

I remember how small Mom became as death slowly approached, her life literally dwindling away, when all that remained was a shell, empty, and devoid of life. Now she’s stored in a small decorative urn which can not possibly contain an entire life? I put down the books maybe I’ve had enough God moments for a one day. 

As the morning turns to afternoon, I’m still in my pajamas, reading, writing, and contemplating the ducks nesting in my geraniums, while Larry has secured our new tree with two large stakes, set up an elaborate watering system to keep her hydrated when we’re away, and fixed the swim deck that came loose. 

He sits down next to me, it’s hot, he’s sweating, and hands me a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I point to our expectant ducks, grumbling about how they have to sit in the hot sun all day, I’m just about to suggest Larry set up an umbrella, when suddenly one of the ducks emerges from her nest, and smoothly lands on the water. She is immediately joined by a male duck who has been floating in the water under the shade of the Goudreau’s deck. They paddle off together, I assume in search of food, and the poor duck certainly has to relieve herself? 

I look at Larry aghast, he says, “what?”

“That poor duck, sitting all day in the hot sun just to keep her egg safe, while her husband lingers under the shade of the deck in the cool water. What the hell? I remember when you slipped out for a hamburger in the middle of my labor with Julie.” I glare at him for good measure.

Larry has the audacity to laugh, loudly, and leisurely. When he manages to control himself he says, “You were in labor for three days, clearly a man has to find his own shade, I’m thinking a new blog?” (Now he’s claiming proof of concept – such chutzpah!)

“Damn right.”

As he returns to the kitchen to refill our glasses I notice something else, something I failed to mention, something so noble it makes me tear up. The male never moved beyond sight of his beloved, not once, he stayed the course, keeping watch over his wife, and I noticed when a black bird threatened the nest, he went immediately into fighter mode, and bravely drove the predator away. 

I watch the two floating together in the shade, I imagine she is telling him how good it feels to be the carrier of life, I remember what it felt like to have heaven and earth come together in my womb. It’s extraordinary and I remember how safe I felt having a man like Larry guarding our nest.

The other mama duck wasn’t so lucky, her partner has gone awol, and when she went on break something ravaged her nest. Now there is only a small indent where she had been, where the possibility of life once nested, and a few soft feathers left behind as evidence of her presence. How do we love both life and death so generously that neither become our enemy?

Rachel Evans says, “we may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, “Let me tell you a story.” 




I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, I’ll take you for a ride in the convertible. 



Anecdotes:

  • “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our separate ways, I to die, and you to live. Which of these two is better only God knows.” Socrates
  • “There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.” George Santayana
  • “You are the life and you are the death – it is only motion that separates the two.” Abhijit Naskar,

4 Comments

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  1. Hello Cheryl! I have to say that I really enjoyed this edition of your blog. I look forward to reading your almost weekly entries. It’s a little like Christmas morning. With each post, I wonder where your writing will lead my mind. From humor, to humanitarianism, to music and somehow it all ties together. I can so relate to being herded to the food bowl. Every morning our cat Gandalf does this funky zig zag walk designed to make sure we are aware of the cat and are heading the right way. As a result, the cat is a little hefty. We get the same treatment from our barn cats. We are an easy mark. Next up I confess that I almost lost it with the speaking to the tree (without all the shit!) Let me tell you… I can attest after using about 4 skid steer bucket-loads of cow dung on various aspects of the garden, plants love shit. (this includes weeds.) Since spreading shit is a big ole hassle, I may have to try talking to them. Who knew! Loved the visual of you struggling to survive with the Mulberry flapping in the convertible as Larry is styling down the road with you getting whipped around in the back. I am still chuckling. We had the tornado, and you had the ride home from the nursery. Next up is the crux of the entry. How to deal with the fact that all life ends in death. How do we cope? Do we embrace it as a welcomed part of existence? Do we fear it as a painful end of all we know? No more time with friends and family. Do we quest for a long life so that when we die it is a welcome relief from the debilitating ravages of old age? Sort of a glad to go as nothing left to lose kind of thing. I like it when you reflect on your father and brother-in-law. I believe I met your dad once, though I don’t clearly remember him. I suspect I was thinking at the time “why are we eating in this stodgy restaurant when we could be having pizza at Marriot’s Great America?” And of course, I had to look up Rachel Held. I am always intrigued about people you mention that I have never heard of. Her death was most unusual (I think there is more to the story.) And what an interesting person. A leading force in the evolution of Christianity in current times. Times change, and as people and cultures evolve, religion must too. (Bet you could blog that.) I lifted this from a Buzzfeed article that popped up after a google search: A Year of Biblical Womanhood found Rachel doing outrageous things in the name of arguing against biblical literalism. Fed up by the evangelical gatekeepers who kept women from positions of leadership based on a select few Bible verses, she endeavored to \”take the Bible's instructions on women as literally as possible for a year.\” In the course of writing the book, she grew out her hair, wore only long skirts and other modest clothing. She camped outside when she had her period (Leviticus 15), remained silent in church (1 Corinthians 14), and held a sign proclaiming \”Dan is awesome!\” just inside Dayton’s borders (Proverbs 31: \”Her husband is respected at the city gate\”). An awesome way to point out the fallacy and the inconsistency of selective literal interpretation of the Bible.Question time. Was it definitely a female duck sitting on the nest? Maybe they have an egalitarian relationship and the male duck was taking his turn on the nest while his sweetie was chilling in the shade?

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  2. Did you thank Larry for slipping out for the burger during labor? A guy needs to keep his strength up to be able help out when needed, and he was surely only thinking of you. At least he was awake. With regards to your duck situation, I wish you well. At our farm, we are overwhelmed with invasive life. Birds nesting and then shitting everywhere. One friendly groundhog living off the fruits of our labors was fine, then we suddenly had seven (I sh*t you not!) And oh, by the way, I pretty much can’t kill anything (guilt complex/ all God’s creatures?) unless I am going to eat it (God said that’s cool.) Some old Roman once said, to forgive the commission of one sin is to encourage the commission of many. And so, the Groundhog invasion began. Thank heavens for Gail, the terminator. Anyway, before you know it, your backyard will soon be a wildlife sanctuary. And you will need a power washer to get the bird droppings off of everything. Good luck! And last but not least…Seasons in the Sun. It’s as if you read my mind. I haunting song lamenting the imminence of death. Severely overplayed, I can still remember in 4th or 5th grade when a friend brought it to class and the teacher played it to death. Great song, great trip down memory lane. And I won’t even talk about the double entendre on the B side of the 45.Looking forward to sipping wine in the glorious shade of your fruitless Mulberry (good choice).As for the song…. I was on the tractor listening to music, and this came on. It was right after I had replied to your post about helping the panhandler. The lyrics reached out to me and pretty clearly lined up with my interpretation of your meaning in that post. Too late to post as I had already replied, and there are no do-overs.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAXl4kYZyoA

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  3. Good afternoon Mike! You crack me up because your comments are my christmas gifts that I get to unwrap again and again. It's interesting to me what people glean when you tell a story, it could be different from day to day, depending on what they are dealing with at the time. I had a good time writing about the needs of my dog, and the convertible controversy, but when that male duck came out of the shade I totally lost it. I admit connecting strongly with the female sitting in the hot sun to procure new life. I remember when Larry said, \”what do you think about the name Dante.\” I said, \”for what, a dog?\” He said, \”no, if we have another kid.\” I said, \”WE AREN'T HAVING ANY MORE KIDS.\” Well we all know how that turned out! I have a wonderful son named Dante but as I explained to Larry it was my womb he gestated in for NINE MONTHS, and my breasts he nursed from for ONE YEAR, followed by THREE YEARS of sleep training. Not that Larry was floating in the shade the whole time but it felt much the same to an exhausted mom of four. As you can see I'm totally over it now! You would have loved my Dad, he was one of a kind, funny, handsome, and oh so clever. I miss his smile especially when it landed on me. One thing my sister and I remember about our Dad is we never, ever heard him yell? He was as calm as a cucumber! I remember thinking how lucky I was to have a Dad you could always depend on in terms of mood and dependability. As a kid that seemed important, as an adult I know it to be so much more. I've had an especially hard time with the death of Rachel Held, she was so young, and had small children. I am in the middle of her book about living the biblical woman and love the research she shares along with the often overlooked biblical stories. She highlights the conflict with biblical teaching and modern culture. For example we do not expect our women to marry their rapist, or stone to death only female adulators. I love her writing style, it has enormous clarity, and punch. I wonder if there is more to the story of her death? What could it be? Answer: Yes, it was only the female sitting on the egg when we were observing but that doesn't mean the male didn't take the night duty?

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  4. Hold on – Thank Larry for slipping out to purchase a hamburger during my labor? I did not! But I did thank him for the huge bruise I left on his hand from the enormous pressure I put into my grasp during every contraction. He was a trooper. We went medication free with the first one, she was sunny side up, and almost nine pounds. But oh look what I got? My beloved Julie. Yes the duck situation, we have noted the shit all over the deck, and furniture. So much for the ideal lakefront maternity ward. Groundhogs galore at the Severance farm? I had no idea they multiplied like rabbits. I thought they were useful when predicting the weather. Who knew they could be so much trouble? So Gail is the henchwoman? Good to know. Bravo Gail.Great song, \”The road is filled with homeless souls Every woman, child and man Who have no idea where they will go But they'll help you if they can Now everyone must have some thought That's going to pull them through somehow Well the fires are raging hotter and hotter But the sisters of the sun are going To rock me on the water now Rock me on the water Sister will you soothe my fevered brow Rock me on the water I'll get down to the sea somehow Oh people, look among you…\”Thanks for the comments, made my day Mike, and yes looking forward to some cool wine, on the shaded patio.

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