Lange: Pieces of stories

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange has noticed that Nature generally gives us only pieces of stories – leaving us to fill in the details.

(LANGE) We sat on the porch on a July evening last year, sipping preprandial drinks.  Down at the foot of the yard our late dogs’ grave reminded us that not long ago there would have been four of us here.  Our nest, we reflected sadly, is truly empty.

Just then Mother whispered, "Look!  Look!  On that branch!  There’s one of the babies!"  About forty feet away, perched on a branch sticking up from a pile of logs awaiting my chain saw, was a baby robin just out of the nest.  He sat with hunched shoulders, clearly unhappy.  Now and then he stretched out his neck and made little stretching motions with his wings.  But he lacked the daring to go for it.  Where were his parents?

Most of us love stories for the way they capture and engage our imaginations.  I’ve been watching church congregations for seventy years now, and I notice that when the preacher is preaching, almost every congregant deploys a nictitating membrane.  Human beings, actually, don’t normally have one.  Sharks, reptiles, woodpeckers, chickens, polar bears, and seals do.  It’s an extra eyelid that slides down to protect the eye from damage.  People use them when they hear preaching;  their eyes glaze and they’re not listening.  But let the preacher tell a story, and everyone, from children to ancients, leans forward attentively.

All around us are hundreds of stories every day – stories of mortal peril, life and death, success and failure.  But we rarely get a glimpse, except just a bit now and then: a scattering of feathers on the ground; an arrowhead turned up by a plow.  We miss so much!

The summer of 1995 some friends and I were camped on Hepburn Island, north of mainland Canada in the Northwest Passage.  Up above us on a ledge I spotted a bird’s nest that looked familiar: a robin’s nest, certainly.  I climbed up and peeked in, to find four tiny, naked robin corpses.  There was a story there, a sad one, possible only to imagine.

But here on the porch was one still happening.  Just as we were despairing for the little robin, his mother showed up, landed beside him, and gave him a nudge with one wing.  She flew into a spruce thicket and called loudly, as we silently urged him on.  Then off he went, disappearing into the trees, and coming to roost somewhere.  We could hear them talking to each other down in there.

Next morning I heard Mother run onto the porch shouting, "Shoo!  Beat it!"  A broad-winged hawk flapped into the treetops, with two robins swarming at his head and neck.  He’d been trying to get at the nest tucked up between our roofs; but whether any chicks were still there, we couldn’t tell.  The nest is abandoned and quiet now.  Another story that gave us just a quick peek as it flew by.

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

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