The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2015 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Especially when the village is populated by four tiny robins named John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
Nature is your Xbox when you grow up in the country. As a little girl, I played with tadpoles and frogs. I knew every chipmunk in the yard. We were visited by deer, rabbits, raccoons, waddling opossums and near-sighted skunks. The groundhogs showed up every year when the spring peas ripened in the garden. While I adore the furry, I always had a soft spot for the birds and their love stories. I watched birds flirt, build nests, remodel nests, lay eggs and raise their families.
Robins are cheerful, industrious birds and always seem to be nearby except in the coldest of months. Here in the Shenandoah Valley where I live now, they appear 10 months out of the year and will winter over if they have a protected roosting spot and access to food. Robins are pot-bellied, jolly creatures warbling a pleasant melody. What’s not to love?
Want to make friends with a robin? Dig worms to use as fishing bait and leave the turned soil, still wriggling with escaping earthworms, for the robins to feast upon. You’ll have a friend for life, or at least be best buddies while you have a shovel in your hand.
The summer I was six years old, there was a robin’s nest clearly visible from our bathroom window. At first the mama bird would fuss every time we’d peek, but robins are generally tolerant of humans. Once she figured we weren’t a threat, she begrudgingly accepted us.
My family marked the calendar from the day she laid those beautiful sky-blue eggs until they cracked. Baby birds, louder than you would think possible, emerged and immediately demanded attention and food, chop chop. We followed their progress, watching them evolve from their tiny pterodactyl phase into adorable fuzzy nestlings.
That year the Beatles were huge in the country and in my heart, so naturally I named our little friends John, Paul, George and Ringo. No better names for a foursome than that, and the tiny birds were quite a quartet.
One evening as we were just sitting down to supper, there was a hullabaloo coming from the bathroom. We all ran to see what was happening. The mother robin was throwing herself against the window, screeching. She kept banging violently into the window pane and making noises I didn’t know robins could make. Mama took one look and bolted.
My mother quickly reappeared carrying her pistol. She lifted the window, aimed, and shot the head off a black snake that had just reached swallowing distance of the endangered nestlings. It fell, catching on a lower branch, a headless tube of writhing muscle.
Mama nodded at the mother robin who was at the nest counting her babies and said, “You’re welcome.”
They say that it takes a village to raise a baby. Sometimes it takes a village plus one snub-nose Smith & Wesson.