In his magical book, The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard writes,
“…in the world of inanimate objects, extraordinary significance is attached to nests. We want them to be perfect, to bear the mark of a very sure instinct. We ourselves marvel at this instinct, and a nest is generally considered to be one of the marvels of animal life.”
I sit in my rocker grooming Izzy. She’s unnaturally still. I follow her intense gaze. A Carolina wren sits on the porch railing, a worm dangling from its beak. It looks left and right, up and down, hops closer. A flower box is attached halfway up the wall to my left. When we arrived for the summer I was delighted to discover it contained a nest. How did the birds know how to build it? Now the eggs have hatched.
Izzy and I are only a few feet away. I sit very still, willing the parent to reach the nest before we scare it off. Izzy whips her body around hoping the brush in my hand will scratch the itchy space where her tail and back meet. Startled, the wren flies away. I release my breath slowly, regret having alarmed it, feel like an intruder on my own porch, wish the birds weren’t afraid of us. Izzy noses my hand. I brush her obligingly.
Can you see the wren on the closest chair?
The Smokeys are filled with sources of fresh emotions that remind me of my own instincts. This morning when Fred went out to the porch to enjoy his coffee, a squirrel jumped off the chaise lounge. The yellow wool throw at the end of it was churned into a lumpy mass. Apparently the squirrel had used my cozy wrap for a nest.
It’s been cool and rainy for the past two weeks. When misty drizzles swell into weightier drops the birds desert our feeders. I feel sorry for them, worry about how they’re keeping dry.
Luckily, the wrens’ nest is high and dry under a covered porch. I’m comforted by this when I watch the rain from my rocking chair. Yet, there’s a down side to this location. How were Mama and Papa Wren to know their refuge in this mountain valley is also our nest, and that it would soon be invaded by a four-legged, waggy-tailed, creature as well as some giant two-leggeds?
As living near man-made habitats can be problematic for birds and other wild creatures, so Nature’s sanctuaries can have down sides for humans. On our first walk last summer, Izzy and I were in a narrow space bordered by dense undergrowth when she raced ahead of me past a lethal timber rattler less than 3 feet away. I was both frightened and fascinated, and have avoided that spot ever since. The next day our neighbor came over with his rifle and stalked it. But we never saw it again. Perhaps its instinct for survival compelled it to find a safer haven in a deeper, darker part of the forest. The same instinct makes me wary of such places!
“It is striking that even in our homes, where there is light, our consciousness of well-being should call for comparison with animals in their shelters. An example may be found in the following lines by the painter, Vlaminck, who, when he wrote them, was living quietly in the country: ‘The well-being I feel, seated in front of my fire, while bad weather rages out-of-doors, is entirely animal. A rat in its hole, a rabbit in its burrow, cows in the stable, must all feel the same contentment that I feel.’ Thus, well-being takes us back to the primitiveness of the refuge. Physically, the creature endowed with a sense of refuge, huddles up to itself, takes to cover, hides away, lies snug, concealed.”
Refuge at last!
When we first arrived, Izzy slept as close to our bed as she could when it stormed outside. Sometimes her need for concealment was so strong that she’d push herself too far under and get stuck. Meanwhile, I’d be listening to the rain snuggled in a nest of soft pillows and a thick, bunched-up comforter. Our need for refuge was the same. We just expressed it differently.
Our relationships with our instincts are as paradoxical as our relationships with wilderness creatures. We love and indulge them when we’re secure in our safety and comfort. We cage and kill them when we’re not. What animal in us seeks refuge from life’s storms and feels such well-being in our nests? What cringing creature experiences terror when otherness intrudes? What inner observer sees our fear and challenges us to overcome it?
Thank you to my poet friend, Brian Carlin, for recommending Bachelard’s wonderful book. I can see why you love it.
Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at Kobo, Barnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.