To Be Or Not To Be

It occurs to me that humans are quite possibly the only species that make deliberate decisions regarding the existence of other species. I’m not referring to self-survival associated decisions. Its the ones we make to suit our life styles I’m thinking about. We build houses to give ourselves good views and displace or dispose off whatever else lived there before. Land reclamation is casually achieved with no thought to effects on marine life close to shore or shoreline. “If a habitat does not suit, then its presence is moot.” We Homo sapiens do not easily compromise to coexist with other species. Control freaks – that what we are.

And so it came to be in my corner. I’d mentioned in a recent post that a bird was trying to settle into the chandelier above the dining table on the terrace. I was leaning towards letting it do so but other voices relevant in my life were leaning the other way. After all, with the weather warming up, dining outdoors is de rigueur. We wait all through the cold months dreaming of the many hours spent lingering at said terrace. Meals, poker games, painting, reading, rounds of Scrabble, writing and actual face to face conversations, this area is well used. A nest in the chandelier would preclude such happenings for the entire duration of its occupancy. Thus, it was decided that since the nest was not actually built, it would be okay to discourage all attempts to do so. Each evening, as I finished up in the garden, I’d remove the mess of twigs that lay strewn on the table as well as the ragged bits of paper that clung to the tole leafs of the chandelier. Judging from the sheer untidiness and obvious lack of architectural experience, I’d say this was the avian equivalence to a teenage pregnancy. It seemed like bird and I were playing a silly game. She tossed around stuff and I cleaned up. Each of us teasing/tormenting the other. I figured eventually she’d get tired and find another location well out of my reach and sight.

Then, it rained hard for two days straight. With no possibility of gardening, I happily went about my indoor chores. Come the first dry day after the deluge, and there it was – a sturdy nest solidly ensconced in the chandelier. I graciously conceded to the bird. Her determination and persistence to acquire this rather choice site for her future babies demanded and received my deep admiration. As far as I was concerned, Nature had spoken. It was no longer my place to deem where the bird was to build the nest.

The nest looked clearly to be that of a robin. Kind of blocky and functional. Not particularly tidy – fibers and twigs still hanging or sticking out. Robins build that way. I was right. Soon, as I passed by doing my garden tasks, I’d see a robin hover around making disapproving sounds and keeping a keen eye on me. After what had happened between us in the early days, I didn’t blame her.

With a very strong table right beneath, I now had a perfect way to peer into the nest. So clamber atop the table I did. I still fell short by a few inches. With a too-good-to-be-true viewing opportunity such as this, I was frustrated but not put off. I contorted my hands whilst holding the camera and tried to take a photograph of the interior. Since I couldn’t see what my camera was pointed at, I made numerous attempts till my arms and shoulders hurt. Finally, just when I was ready to concede once again, I got the shot I sought. All the while, I was aware of the distressed mama bird making annoyed and anxious sounds. She stayed near by and I half expected her to fly at my face and poke my eyes out. I kept thinking safety glasses were in order.

I’m terribly thrilled to have that photo of four exquisitely perfect, brilliant Robin’s blue eggs but I also have a deep sense of shame and guilt for having traumatized the bird. I had behaved like paparazzi.
Standing a respectful distance from the nest, I asked for forgiveness. From now till the time the eggs hatch, the babies grow and fly away, there will be no dining under the nest. We will move the table to a spot away from it if we want to eat outside. It’ll perforce be in semi-darkness as if to echo the state of human intelligence. C’est la vie.

Along similar lines, a second event occurred this week. My neighbor had a silver maple tree taken down. This tree was huge. At least eighty feet tall and from what a tree expert once told me, it was perhaps close to a hundred years old. Understandably, it was a real presence in our lives. Its branches hung over our back terrace and gave quiet shade in the heat of summer. In the fall, it was the last to shed its leaves and we did not mind our share of them. Small price to pay for its majestic beauty.

Concerned about rot and limbs falling in storms, the owners had the tree removed last week. It took the highly skilled tree guys all day to take it down. Thats how big this tree was. I was already sad when informed the tree was to go but the intensity of my sorrow upon hearing the start of the buzz-saw, surprised me. I hadn’t realized just how much trees mean to me. And this elderly specimen towering over us all had earned its stripes. With the loud, steady thrum in the background, I thought about life, death, loss, love, friendship and so many other things. I offered up my deep gratitude to the tree. I apologized for what was happening to it. I wished it well and hoped it understood why this was happening. Mostly, I asked pardon for all the atrocities committed by my species. The necessary, the excusable, not so excusable as well as the unforgivable.

Être ou pas être?

Today, May 27 is Rachel Carsons birthday. Celebrate by being kind to this amazing, fragile Earth of ours.

How gorgeous are these eggs?

How gorgeous are these eggs?


Messy nest of the Robin family.

Messy nest of the Robin family.


The big silver maple seen behind the gazebo (under which live the Robins)

The big silver maple seen behind the gazebo (under which live the Robins)


Sans the majestic one. I wish I'd known to take more specific pictures of the tree.

Sans the majestic one. I wish I’d known to take more specific pictures of the tree.


Tree cutting in progress

Tree cutting in progress


No trace of the tree remains

No trace of the tree remains


(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

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2 thoughts on “To Be Or Not To Be

  1. One of your best columns. Which is saying a lot. And the photo is beautiful. I hope your new tenant forgives you.

  2. Beautiful sentiments! There is a Qi Gong exercise in which the person circles a tree to draw its energy. Of course one chooses the energy that is needed. An oak would be masculine or Yang. A weeping willow is yin or female energy. I too love the magnificence of trees (and nests)

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