A Feathered Nest

No one I know ever accused me of having a green thumb.  A moldy thumb, perhaps, because I’m undeniably challenged in the gardening department.  It isn’t that I don’t care about houseplants; I just kill them.  The moment I enter the patio or living room with my trusty watering can, the overture from Sweeney Todd miraculously begins to fill the air.
Not giving up, sometime last spring I began to sprout avocado pits in drinking glasses as a Grandma-lesson to hyperactive rug rats.  Well, the kids stopped caring, but I became deeply involved.  I couldn’t stop watching the progress.  As soon as three sprouted pits looked hardy enough, I transferred them into one ceramic pot and placed it on the indoor window sill.  I waited for my avocado bush to grow lush and fruity.
“We are going to have the most beautiful avocado bush,” I waxed dreamily to my husband one snowy Shabbos afternoon.  “Do you think it will grow wide like a rubber plant or spindly like a ficus?”
“You can’t put three together because you are growing a tree.  An avocado tree.  Where are you planning to put that thing if it actually grows?  We live in a matchbox,” came the snooty reply.
“A tree?  Who says?” I queried.  “Don’t avocados grow on bushes?”
“Look it up after Shabbos.  When I lived in California, I saw them taller than houses.  Maybe 45 feet high.”
Pressing my lips together, I silently asked myself what blessing I’d been saying for years over guacamole and realized that I’d always said “Borei pri ha-adamah” (fruit of the ground) instead of “Borei pri ha’etz” (fruit of the tree)!  As I’m typically a quiet bracha-sayer, no one ever corrected me.
Still, to ascertain that Mr. Know-It-All actually had it right, I wended my way to the computer search engine the moment the Sabbath was out.  Sure enough, I learned that if my sweet new plant didn’t die a typical Andrea death in the next few months, it had a fighting chance to burst through the walls of our 94 meter abode.  Not to get embroiled in a Roe v. Wade type discussion, I voted to keep alive this embryonic life form by hook or by crook and face any future foliage challenges with aplomb.
Filled with new-found confidence, I began paying special attention to two geranium plants that sit outside the sills.  One took its own life when I wasn’t looking and, after only two therapy sessions, I recovered.  But the other is blossoming like nobody’s business; each week I clear away the dried leaves and stems, give it just enough water and bask in its red, flowering beauty.
One day, while performing my daily geranium sprucing chore, I noticed a few pine needles that hadn’t been there two days earlier.  Leaving them where I found them, I went about my other household tasks.  And when I looked again in the afternoon, there were a few more needles.  Hardly more than a palm-full but it still seemed odd.
The next morning a bird was sitting in my plant.  A mourning dove, to be exact.  For those of you not cowed by the exotic name, mourning doves are pigeons in Israel.  A little prettier with a taupe color and translucent gleam, but they have that same uppity walk and are never seen with their smaller, bratty babies.  Remember the question, “Where are the baby pigeons?”  Excitedly, I hoped to be the first in my social circle to have an answer.
I grew obsessed, determined to become an avian birth doula, if given the chance.  Bringing the radio as close to the window as possible without spooking her, I played Pachelbel and Mozart.  Sometimes I cracked the window open just a tad and read a selection or two of Keats and Eliot.  One afternoon, she sat calmly as I slowly dropped some sesame-seeds into the far corner of the plant.  But when I tried to embed a whiskey-jigger of water for easy sipping into the same corner, she flew off.  Although I felt initially sad, imagine my surprised shock as I saw two sweet, cream-colored eggs sitting atop the pine needles!  I didn’t touch them because I feared that a human scent might cause her to abandon them.    And without fanfare, she returned a few minutes later, resuming her roosting position.
For days I watched.  I called her “Susan,” because I felt like it.  Assuming I’d be named Godmother or, at least, have other mourning doves check out my geranium birthing center, I thought that I’d have plenty of time to learn about the gestation period, unusual habits of pigeons, feeding of the young, time frame for avian independence and self-sufficiency.  I called and/or wrote to all of the grandchildren, telling them of the exciting event in Grandma’s window and even began to mentally pen a book about the experience.
Less than two weeks after I first sighted the crummy-looking nest, they were gone.  Susan, the eggs, the sesame seeds.  Even using a magnifying glass, I could find no blood, no dried fluid, no eggshell remnants.  As though it never happened, the plant leaves quickly curved over the hollowed out “maternity ward,” leaving  no visible traces for me to sigh over.
The following morning, I remained in my bed later than usual, ashamed of the powerful loss I was feeling.  “Are you all right?” asked my life-partner.  “What are you thinking about?”
“Susan.  I miss her.  I feel a void.  No, I feel angry for her lack of gratitude.”
The ensuing silence indicated that, maritally, he was afloat in uncharted waters and didn’t want to screw up future intimacy by saying something cynical.   Wisely, he held my hand in his beneath the blanket.
“You did your best, but you can’t project human sentiments onto birds.  She did exactly what she was supposed to do according to the Master Plan.  You did yours.  And who knows?  Perhaps she’ll be back.  Or maybe one day the babies will come back to roost here, in their ancestral home, and even include our window sill on a Back-To-Our-Roots tour.”
I rose, put on a bathrobe and grabbed my trusty watering can, hell-bent on keeping my plants alive one more day.  We ate breakfast on the patio and included, of course, some freshly chopped avocado pear drizzled with lemon.  I wish I could say that it came from my bush/tree, but that would be an outright lie.
Gazing toward the geranium plant outside my bedroom window, I saw something so small, so hidden that it was barely discernible.  Excusing myself from the veranda, I went to the room and opened the window to investigate further.  There, stuck to a dried stem was a nearly translucent, tiny white feather.
I held it in my fingers for a few moments watching it flutter.  Then I let go.  Crying, I watched it blow away.

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