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Struggling to cope with an empty nest complex - Clay Wilson

My editor pointed out to me last week (editors are notorious for this sort of thing) that lately I've written several columns based on news items I had read.

She didn't say it critically, just factually. Nevertheless, it did make me think that I ought to write about something that falls within the scope of my own experience.

Something of which I have firsthand knowledge. Something with which I am intimately familiar.

Something like bird poop.

Actually, I'm not intimately familiar with bird poop, although my car does receive regular coatings since my apartment complex is enveloped by trees.

But I have had a daily opportunity lately to study avian excrement, if I were so inclined. I wasn't particularly so inclined, but I was inclined to watch the family of birds that nested in a hanging basket outside my office window.

Several weeks ago some of my more observant colleagues noticed the nest in the basket. Soon the nest was graced with several eggs; and it wasn't long until the eggs hatched into tiny, fuzzy but still somehow unattractive baby birds.

My fellow writer Diane first noticed the unusual nest d?cor the mother bird used. She (the mother bird, not Diane) erected a virtual wall of her own waste around the babies.

At first I was appalled. But then Diane noted that (disgustingly enough) the babies were actually the same mottled color scheme as the wall of waste, which thus provided them with a perfectly camouflaged hiding place.

Nevertheless, I got to see plenty of the babies when feeding time came around, which seemed to be about 257 times a day. I would be alerted to the upcoming feast by the sudden frantic piping of the baby birds.

This chirping would start each time a parent bird would approach with food in its beak. It was as if the babies were saying, "I'm here! I want my share!"

This brought back a terrible vision of my sister and I sitting at the dinner table, waiting as Mom dished out the victuals. I fervently hoped that Traci and I did not in any way resemble the baby birds.

As I mentioned, the parents fed their little ones many times each day. The mother and father would take turns: While one was feeding, one would be out gathering the next meal, and they would just continue in an endless cycle.

I realized as I watched them why birds have never pursued such activities as literature, art or politics: They're always too busy feeding their babies.

It's easy enough to come up with "Hamlet," the Mona Lisa or the U.S. Constitution if one has time to sit and ponder these things. But such contemplative pursuits would be next to impossible if one is constantly seeking insects to regurgitate into the mouths of one's offspring.

(I could here go into a graphic description of birds' feeding habits, but mercifully, I'm running out of space.)

On Monday, I noticed as I came into the office that the babies were gone. Apparently they learned to fly over the weekend and left home to face the world on their own.

There is any number of sentimental analogies that could be made here to how human children grow up, but as I said, I'm running out of space.

I will say, though, that now the kids are gone, and all I'm left with is an empty nest, some wonderful memories and a pile of poop.

I sure hope that's not how my parents feel.

Clay Wilson is the education and public safety reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.