I slid open the glass door to the screened porch off the bedroom on a cool April afternoon. Old white bedsheets that had been draped over the wicker recliners three weeks ago now had the greenish-yellow pallor of a winter cough. Another in the same palette covered the side table and lamp. Pollen season.
Yellow powder dusted the furniture coverlets and every inch of the cedar decking like a snowfall of confectioners’ sugar on Greek wedding cookies. I convinced myself that the pine pollen had peaked allowing me to clean off the porch and reclaim one of my wife’s favorite spots in the house. It’s on the second level and surrounded by trees that mask the neighbors behind. Birds fill the morning with song and at night owls hoot in the moonlight.
A tentative swipe of the broom across the floor sent billows of dust into the air. Loblolly pine pollen. It is a burnt yellow-green and has the consistency of fine sawdust when swept into piles. You can see its dusting on car hoods every morning beginning in late March here in Atlanta. It tinges the edges of ponds and after a rain it leaves yellow trails across the pavement.
“Eeeyeaatchoo,” a hard sneeze accompanied the next broom stroke. No stopping now. The sheets were carefully folded, the dustpan filled and on hands and knees I swept every corner. The late afternoon sun highlighted a cloud of pollen motes suspended in the air and I instinctively moved my head into a shadow to breathe even as I knew the air there was equally teeming with the tiny grains.
An hour later the cozy porch, just big enough for two, was ready for morning coffee, long reads and afternoon naps. I was happy to surprise Helen with the accomplished chore and she could simply relax into the cushioned chair and enjoy space she had styled with such care: decorative mirrors reflecting the natural greenery, patterned fabrics and a carved wooden figurine of a cardinal that her late father had kept near his armchair and greeted with “good morning little birdy,” each day.
As I admired my dusting handiwork I saw the foundational twigs of a nest taking shape in the crook of a branch just to the other side of the mesh screen. We had seen a robin nest in that very spot last year, where eggs later appeared but were stolen before they could hatch. It was a poor location. Helen had spotted this year’s nascent nest a few days before and tried to discourage the bird by clapping. But now a female Northern Cardinal was back, twig in her beak, perched close and eyeing the nest she had started. A brilliant red male kept watch on her from a tree just a few feet away.
I moved closer to dissuade her. She twittered, signaling her mate she was troubled. She flew off at first but came back, insistent that this was the right place for their nest. The wise male cardinal, wary of my presence, flew to a tree further away and called back to her in a loud clear whistle. She cocked her head to the fledgling nest and then to her mate. He kept calling and then winged to yet a further tree. Finally she relented and followed his lead.
A day later and they have not returned. A good decision that the cardinal pair worked out together. Nests are crucial to both cardinals and to us. We all need a snug retreat where we can find refuge from the rain and wind. Making and maintaining a good nest takes collaboration. Someone to find the right furnishings and someone to keep an eye on the neighborhood. If we find the right mix, love can flourish in the space we create and that takes input from both sides.
I have a variety of interests and enjoy sharing my reflections on them here.