This will teach you not to leave the stepladder on the deck leaning against the back wall of the house because you are too darned lazy to haul it back to the garage.

That’s what I did in the late winter. Too cold, too much snow. I’ll just leave it here for now, I said, in an interior monologue that should have sent the voice of my dad, Frank Haley, reverberating through my noggin: “We’ll peel all the wallpaper off the bedroom walls and leave the interesting designs of the bare plaster just temporarily,” he said back in the mid-’60s.

Three bedrooms, no paint, endless games of ‘Find the State’ in the plaster, for multiple years. 

Loved that man.

So the stepladder was on the deck minding its own business as winter finally broke. Then one day I’m coming back from the alley having deposited garbage in the cans and what is it I’m seeing on the top of the ladder? A bird’s nest. Lovely, round, small and, how the heck did it get constructed so fast?

There are robins on the nest of course. We read up. Mom and dad taking turns nest-sitting over several gestational weeks. And then miraculously tiny birds start cheeping. We see one head, two, three and finally four little beaks. 

That was a little while ago. Now their folks are delivering worms on a regular basis, by this time wondering, ‘Why’d we build this nest on top of a ladder by the back door of a house with multiple dogs, a killer cat and people who like to sit on chairs and stare at us?”

The birds got bigger, featherier, gradually bolder. By Sunday afternoon, the biggest gardening day of the year in our yard, first one and then two of the birds had stepped out of the nest and perched alongside on the ladder top. Clearly, they were not long for the nest. Finally as the afternoon was closing, there was mad chirping from all directions as the babies attempted to take flight. Right into a yard filled with fascinated animals.

Disclaimer: No lovely birds died during the creation of this column.

But a couple had close calls as they did not immediately gain altitude and flapped along the driveway maybe 18 inches off the ground. A perfect height for a doodle with an open mouth. Dogs have never been yelled at so loud, chased by older folks so fast as Sunday afternoon. Good, sweet Rue, the doodle, perhaps a bit traumatized by the volume and speed of the normally loving adults, coughed up the bird held gently in her mouth and the baby escaped behind one of the garden fences where it regained its composure and eventually made its way to the sky. The cat, the always sociable, occasionally deadly Jester, was urged from its hiding place in the bushes with the end of a rake. He left the yard with reluctance.

After a few moments the ALL CAPS chirping subsided, the nest was empty, and calm returned to the garden. 

The internet tells us that robins often return to the same nest for a second round of procreation. We must debate, and fast, if traffic patterns on our deck should lead us to disrupt those plans, and hopefully avoid the potential trauma of last weekend.

That said, the last weeks of talking to mama and papa robin as we passed them at their work, offering soothing words to the babies as they sat with beaks wide open awaiting a feeding have felt very special and like something of a gift.

It has been a grinding year for all of us. Here’s to new life. Precarious and glorious.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...