I first noticed the young robins, now rather large fledglings, while doing some yard work one evening near an apple tree. The three, almost grown, chicks were acting as a raucous choir, attracting quite a bit of attention to themselves. They chirped competitively for their parents’ attention, reaching their heads skyward, mouths open, hoping to be the first to receive a meal. The three young birds were now far too large for the nest and they bulged over the perimeter of the stick basket like three overweight sailors in a tiny lifeboat. The largest tried to reach over his siblings only to tumble out of the nest. The tumble was slow and awkward with yet untested wings fully extended, reducing the speed of the descent and breaking the fall on the lawn below. The father robin, previously undetected by me, flew from a nearby branch and was immediately at the fledgling’s side.
The young robin seemed none too worse for the wear, but now found himself in a new and strange environment. Presumably it was the first time he was outside of the nest and he appeared to be a little out of his element. The father robin flew away from the young bird, a distance of about 10 feet, and stood next to the base of the apple tree chirping loudly. After a few moments the fledgling hopped over to join the adult robin in the shadow of the apple tree. The two birds just stood there while the mother robin chirped repeatedly from a branch overhead.
This continued for quite some time. The father robin maintained his position steadfastly at the side of the fledgling. Dusk arrived and soon the dark of night limited any potential for further observation on my part.
That evening, as I sat on our deck, I could hear the distant sound of our neighbor’s children playing hide and seek in the dark. Their playful yelling and laughing was music to my ears. I realized how much I missed the laughing and playing of our children now grown and in the process of living the adventures of life on their own.
I never really understood the meaning of “bittersweet” until our oldest some moved out of the house. Bitter because I was losing one of the best parts of my life, and sweet because I could be proud that he was ready to go out on his own in the world and become his own person. Now our second son is getting ready to move on, and I can’t help myself in reliving those same bittersweet moments. Of course, as all parents do we experienced the many challenges of adolescence, and there were days when I really wished they were ready to move on. Still, I frequently find myself lost in memories of their childhood and I struggle to bring my focus to the here and now.
The natural world has ways of assuring the continuation of species. Sometimes it is as simple as the nest being too crowded. I wish that the nest could have stayed crowded for a while longer.
The next morning I was quite surprised to see both parents and all three fledglings hopping about the lawn near the apple tree. The young robins, with their white spotted red breasts, seemed content with their new position in life as they experimented with low–level flight off a small rise on the lawn. By that afternoon, all three were capable of flying into the lowest branch of the apple tree, protected from the inevitable dangers that might be lurking about in the natural world.
Through the next week I often saw the five robins hunting for worms within the boundaries of our yard. The nest was now abandoned and within two more weeks the younger robins were off to find territories of their own, leaving the adults behind to continue their lives for the rest of the summer before the autumn migration to the south.
The parent robins will return next year to start a new family. Life will begin anew. As for me, I will have to wait and hope that, God willing, I will someday in the future get to enjoy the families of our two sons.
In the meantime I will have my memories and wonderful wife to comfort me.
Originally written for the Heath Herald in May of 2004.