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By the looks of it the robin had been there a while, its feathers frayed, its talons tangled with cobwebs, its attempts to flap free of my hand listless.

The window is framed behind a door at the top of the cellar steps (“cellar” being an artisanal word for “basement of damp fungal nightmares”). The robin must have flown into the porch, found the cellar door ajar, fixated on the light through the glass, and never found its way out. I detected it only when I brushed against the cellar door on my way in from chicken chores and heard the light clunk of wings against the sill.

I reached for the bird, expecting it to dive away down the stairs. Instead, it pressed into the glass, fluttering and scratching, but only half-heartedly dodging my extended hands. I clasped its wings to its sides and drew it toward me. The bird squawked twice, then fell silent. Its eyes were wide with something between fear and defiance. I felt as if I were cradling a breath. There was a vibration; fear, a heartbeat, or both.

My daughters were folding laundry in the living room. I called them to look. There were the usual oohs and aahs, the youngest immediately asking if we could keep it. No, I said, but bring some water. She did, and we dipped the bird’s beak, just as we do with the baby chicks when they arrive in the mail. Rather than duck its head and gulp, the bird shook its beak, the water droplets flying back at us.

We went to the porch steps then, and with a gentle upward toss, I set the bird free. With fluttery stroke, it flew across the snow to the nearest maple and locked on a branch. From a bare patch across the yard, two other robins rose and flew to the same tree. None of the three made a peep, but shortly the other two birds hopped a few branches nearer. Then all three dropped to a place where the snow had only yesterday melted. The frayed bird sat still for a beat, appearing shrunken and unplumped beside its companions. Then it pecked at the earth. And then pecked again. Nature will decide, I thought, and we went back about our day.

It has been an intransigent, backsliding spring. Speaking for myself, we’ve drained it of all humor and hardiness. I don’t wanna stoic-brag to my warm-state friends anymore. Yesterday I stumbled across a photo of the blue Caribbean and nearly fainted from longing. The sugar maples aren’t the only thing tapped around these parts. We’re all that robin, futilely fighting toward the sun. Dying for spring, and hoping only figuratively. Above the three robins pecking at what the retreating snow would give them, the maple branches were dotted with knobs, maroon buds alleged to contain green leaves.

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An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.

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