Why do we call it nesting? Why not denning or lairing? Why was the home of a bird, as opposed to that of a lion or fox or bear, turned into a verb?
Home from a weekend at the beach, I am scurrying to recover the equilibrium of my everyday. The washing machine is swooshing with the first of many loads. What is left of snacks and drinks is scattered across the countertop, haphazardly emptied from tote bags and coolers, awaiting some decision as to whether they are worth keeping. I am standing on a ladder in the shed, hoisting the beach chairs and umbrella up into the rafters. The last remaining grains of sand are a dry baptism on my head.
It rained while I was away, not much, but enough to leave the hydrangea surprisingly perky, the basil sprouting fresh green leaves and the Russian sage, grown absolutely out of control at the corner of the perennial bed, drooping nearly to the ground. The rain was brought in by an eastern breeze; I can tell from the bits and scraps of botanical detritus littering the yard. Carefully watching my steps to avoid the holes dug by armadillos, I nearly trip over a nest.
Sitting perfectly upright, as though laid gently on the ground by soft hands, it is still balanced within the arms of a Y-shaped branch. I wish I had been there to see the branch, snapped brusquely from the chinaberry tree in the rain, fall? dive? float? down to the soft bed of grass on which it now rests.
It is hot. The shed has left me damp all over. My hair clings to my neck in wet curls and my shirt is stuck to my sunburned chest. I am honed in on the air-conditioned inside just a few yards away, craving the taste of just-made sweet tea in a glass sweating as much as I am. But I stop. I cannot resist the nest.
I bend down to peer into its perfect cup. Spun round and round each other like skeins of cotton candy, thin pine needles the warm brown color of melted caramel make a perfect inverted dome. Beyond its edge, larger pieces of brown grass, threads the color of a tweed jacket I once had, form the exterior wall of the little house. Beyond that, twigs and sticks thicker than spaghetti, not as thick as a pencil, lie across each other at odd angles like a game of pickup sticks.
There is no sign of its former occupants and, having lost its place in the tree, the nest is not fit for avian
habitation any longer. I can, without guilt, requisition it for myself — a found treasure, a serendipitous gift. I stoop to gather it carefully into my open palms.
Why do we call it nesting, the instinctual need to adapt an ample and appropriate living space into a unique expression of self? What is it about the delicate configuration of stems and string and stray slips of paper, where eggs are laid and hatched, where raucous wars are fought to protect the hatched, where fledglings are set forth, that makes it a better metaphor for creating a home than the warren of the rabbit or the lodge of the beaver or the sett of the badger?
I carry the nest inside and place it on the kitchen counter. There is a basket of pears grown on Mama’s tree and a hand-painted ceramic bowl I bought at the Club Mud sale at Georgia Southern. On an opposite wall is the framed blue ribbon Grannie won at the fair and a cross-stitched map of Georgia on which I added an extra X for Register. On every wall, on every tabletop, on every bookcase, there is a bit or scrap of my life and they have been spun and threaded together into a home. Into a nest. And it is mine.
The lair, the lodge, the sett. The burrow, the den, the warren. Each is a digging out, an excavation, an emptying. Only the nest is a building up, a construction, a filling. Only the nest takes bits and scraps, pieces and flecks, leftovers and remainders and turns them into a seamless whole. That is why we call it nesting.