It wasn’t supposed to grow this big.
Before my youngest was born, we added on to our home to provide the space we needed as our family grew. We planted what was supposed to be a small to middlin’ serviceberry tree in the backyard.
Our family definitely grew, from small boys who toddled around that tree to middle schoolers who had Nerf-gun wars around it with their friends, to teens who backed out the car next to it (and thankfully never hit it).
As my family grew, so did the tree. It’s gotten more than twice the size it was supposed to be and some branches now reach out so far that they almost touch my back deck.
It’s a gorgeous tree, one a landscaper told me I could get a pretty penny for if I wanted to sell it. I don’t.
You see, it’s not just a gorgeous tree. It’s a giving tree.
Did you ever read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”? For those of you who haven’t, a quick synopsis: A tree and a boy develop a relationship. The tree gives the boy its apples, its shade, and so much more—to the point that when the boy is an old man, the tree is just a stump. But the boy sits on the stump and the tree is happy, having given until it literally can’t give any more.
Our backyard tree begins each spring with a gorgeous array of white flowers. Then, she (yes, it’s a she) grows berries each summer that the birds and bunnies feast upon. My dog loves to lie down beneath the tree (flattening my sweet woodruff) for respite from the hot summer sun. And now, for the first time, a pair of robins have set up house in her branches. It took 17 years, but the tree now has thicker foliage and can hide and support a nest.
I cursed the first time I saw the nest. The robins who built it were obviously smart optimists. They built far enough out on a limb that if the baby bird dropped, it would drop into my viburnum or soft dirt, protected by my deck on two sides. And the nest is well hidden. But every time we get a storm, I worry. As the branches sway, I bite my lip. And this tree is a virtual fast-food restaurant for birds during the early days of summer. How would they protect their nest—which is smack in the middle of the drive-through—from their hungry fellow feathered friends?
I’m a bleeding heart for animals. Basically, what these bird parents did was give me the equivalent of extra children to worry about, albeit feathered ones.
Mama and Papa seem to know we mean them no harm. They’re good parents. They’re vigilant. And fast. They’re like the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbirds of the real bird world—Mach 3+ and they do reconnaissance like nobody’s business.
But here’s the rub: I think they’ve been waiting for their eggs to hatch. Baby birds can be quite loud and I haven’t been awakened at 4 a.m. by the sound of baby bird voices. Either that or they have very introverted children.
I’ve become attached to this bird family already and I don’t even know if they’ve hatched. They hooked me from the start. First, the general messiness of their nest building. It reminded me of my messy artistic mothering. Strewn across my deck stairs for a week were failed attempts—pieces of twine, tinsel, dryer lint—a random assortment of flotsam and jetsam. The nest itself looked a mess, with twigs hanging from it. But in the weeks since its building, they’ve been doing some sprucing up. It’s a proper nest now, with proper parents holding vigil over it. I feel like this may have been the story of my parenting also—I got better at it as I went along.
I watch these birds as I pour coffee in the morning, as I sit on my deck sipping a glass of wine in the evening and random times in between. I’m rooting for them.
And then, tonight happened. As my son and I sat around the firepit, I saw a feathered body land in the middle of my tree. It was far too large and had far too white an underbelly to be anything but the immature hawk I’ve seen flying around near my front yard and the neighboring yards. Just yesterday, I saw a band of much smaller birds chase it away. But it’s getting big fast—and we all know mature hawks are not easily deterred.
If you had seen me, you would have thought I was having a fit. I jumped up from my chair, shouting and waving my arms, getting closer and closer to the tree. Hawks are hard to scare off but this one—being immature and approached by a woman who becomes an insane mother bear when vulnerable beings are at risk—flew away. I’m sure he was saying, “Geez, lady, you’re making a fool of yourself.” I didn’t care. For years, I’ve nurtured this tree and it’s thrived. I’ll be damned if the first living things it nurtures in its branches are going to get killed on my watch.
Where were those darn parents?! They are always near enough to that nest to defend it. Were they playing it cool, hoping Mr. Hawk didn’t see it? Were they taking a night off to go to the bird equivalent of dinner and a movie? Or, worst-case scenario, was I scaring off a hawk who had discovered the nest earlier and already pillaged and plundered? I’ll have to wait for tomorrow for my answer.
In the meantime, tonight, I cross my fingers and toes. If no damage was done, then the robins and I have our work cut out for us. That hawk has now discovered my giving tree and wants to partake. I don’t think he’ll soon forget it. It’s an excellent place to hide while hunting.
What he doesn’t realize is that my tree is not only a giving tree, it’s also a tree of life. The tree of life is a symbol in so many cultures and carries many meanings. It is about a connection to life itself–a reminder that you are never truly alone. It’s about growth and strength—beginning life as a small, delicate sapling and growing into its size and substance over time. I could go on about peace and rebirth but I’ll spare you; you get the idea.
This tree got bigger than it was supposed to. It grew through storms and high winds and dry seasons and icy winters. While my family may not look the same as it did when we planted our tree—having been changed by our own metaphorical weather in life—we have also thrived. Against all odds, despite the times it looked like we were going to sink instead of swim, we have thrived. We have a kinship with this tree—and any living beings it chooses to protect—that runs deep.
Looking back at our journey, I bias toward this: Hope springs eternal. It certainly did for us in life—and it’s worked thus far.
Let’s hope it works until these little hatchlings can fly away safely into the world—as my human ones are soon to do.
We may be a bit messy in our building a life, these robin parents and I, but when we do we protect it with our very souls. The least I could do for them was help out in a moment of need. Us less-than-perfect-but-trying-our-damndest-which-is-pretty-damn-good-by-the way parents need to stick together.
I hope I hear little cheeps in the morning. And I probably won’t sleep well tonight.
Wouldn’t be the first time.