The Robin Year
Maggie sat on the steps of her back porch as she watched a lone robin hop about in the barely-green grass in hopes of finding a meal. He was a tireless little forager. Darting his yellow beak into the crisp earth, he continued to look for migrant worms and insects with little success. He flipped his head from side to side in the late April sun.
The robin was the first advent of the season. To Maggie, he was special. I’ll name him Robbie, she thought, smiling. “Papa, what does belated spring mean?” she asked, gazing at her avian friend.
“It means spring is late, as it is this year.” Papa glanced down at his daughter from atop his stepladder that stood beneath the branch of a dogwood tree. Sliding a bird feeder down a sturdy branch, he measured the distance from the trunk before securing a chain to the feeder -- one of several he had installed or repaired throughout the day.
The morning chorus of birds heralding the arrival of spring was late as well. Each year, the changing light prompted the winter birds to join their spring cousins in a mixed symphony of chatter and song. Chickadees, titmice, robins and more would fill the air at dawn with their tinny honks, sweet-squeals and cheerful whistles…impertinent to some, but beloved by others.
Maggie squinted upward toward the sun. “Ohhh. So belated means to be late. But why don’t they just say ‘late spring’?”
“Well, they do say ‘late.’ Belated just means late, delayed, tardy…”
“Tardy? Like school.” She giggled. “So who do we give the demerits to for spring being late – Mother Nature?”
“Sure, if you can find her,” he laughed.
Maggie sighed and wondered why so many special people created by the grownup world were always invisible or nowhere to be found.
“Mags, can you hand me those pie plates please?” Papa made his own bird feeders, and would slide a painted, aluminum pie pan over each hook, creating a dome-like roof that kept the squirrels at bay. He used different seed for each feeder so that birds could fly to the menus they preferred. Cracked corn and millet were carefully spread on the grass below for the ground-feeding mourning doves and northern cardinals.
Maggie caught her breath as she picked up the pans her mother had painted in greens and yellows. It was just a few days before her seventh birthday during the summer before that Mama left them to fly with the angels. The dogwood was her mother’s favorite, and she knew Mama would be disappointed its creamy blossoms had yet to bloom. The tree’s buds were clamped shut like tiny fists, refusing to open.
Handing the plates to her father, she shook the sadness from her eyes and pointed to her robin. “Robbie is too early this year.” The must for spring is everywhere, she thought. There was a longing for freedom in the air; to fill the lungs from a warm, fragrant breeze; to run and fly in anticipation of the rebirth of everything new.
“So you already have names for your robins. How can you tell them apart?”
“Well…each one is different. And Robbie’s right wing is kinda crimpy.“
Her father climbed down from the ladder and knelt down in the grass next to his daughter. He scrutinized the bird, carefully, from a thoughtful distance. “I see what you mean about that wing,” he said softly. “Some robins remain in the northeast during the winter if they can find enough wild fruit to eat. Perhaps your little friend is one of them."
He rose to his feet and gathered up his tools to complete his Saturday afternoon chores. For the next few hours, Maggie occasionally peeked into the backyard from their kitchen window to monitor Robbie’s progress. Eventually, he fluttered off to explore other territory.
After dinner that evening, Papa fed their Brittney spaniel in his kennel-run before joining his daughter in the kitchen. Without warning, a pounding sound thumped against the glass door leading to the backyard. It was loud, jarring and hit only once. Maggie jumped and her father motioned his ‘stay put’ gesture as he quietly walked to the kitchen door.
Switching on the back light, he looked down through the thick glass and saw Robbie lying on the wooden porch, his body and right wing, crimped and motionless. He picked up the robin and gently placed his thumbs on the orange-tufted chest. It was still and silent. “I’m sorry, Mags, he’s gone.” She nodded, sadly, staring at the glass door.
She watched as her father carefully wrapped the robin in waxed paper and placed him in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator. He then walked to the sink and washed his hands as she held hers over her mouth, trying not to cry.
Knowing that this daughter was deeply saddened, Papa spoke to her in calm and reassuring tones. “Sometimes during the day, birds will fight their mirror image in a glass window, or fly into the reflection of bushes and trees. Not often, and at night, the bird might lose his way and be lured into the glass by the light in the room beyond. Just like your Robbie.”
His gentle understanding comforted her. Soon after, she went to bed, feeling better about the proper burial they planned for Robbie the following day.
Hours later, Maggie awoke just before dawn, feeling oddly restless. Still in her warm pajamas, she crept quietly down the stairs and into the kitchen. She was about to open the refrigerator to get some fruit juice when she heard a muffled, rustling sound coming from the freezer compartment above. Standing on tiptoe, she held her breath as she opened the freezer door.
“Oooohhhh….” She jumped back in astonishment when shadows of grey and orange swooshed in the air as the robin fluttered to the floor. “Robbieeeee,” she squealed with delight and surprise.
As the dazed bird flapped his wings and scurried about in panic, she retrieved a raisin muffin from the counter bread box. She broke the muffin up into little pieces and tossed tidbits of grain and fruit to the floor. Robbie wasted no time in feasting on the tiny morsels. Emboldened after his hearty breakfast, he flew onto the kitchen table and crooked his head to the side as if asking a question.
Maggie immediately sensed what she had to do and gently cupped the robin in her hand. She opened the kitchen door and swung her arm upward, letting the bird fly from her grasp. “Fly, fly, little Robbie, fly,” she called out to him. His flight wobbled in uncertainty at first until he gathered some height and disappeared into the shadows of the dogwood tree.
Remembering what her father did hours before, she quickly closed the door and carefully washed her hands in the kitchen basin. She poured herself a glass of juice and sat down at the table to wait for her father.
Several minutes later Papa walked into the kitchen. He was surprised to see his daughter up so early. “I thought I heard something,” he said, yawning. When she explained to her father what had happened with Robbie, the sleep in his eyes gave way to concern. “Mags, listen to me…” The words stuck in his throat when he spotted muffin crumbs scattered about the floor the robin had overlooked in his haste.
He walked over to the freezer compartment and opened it. There, on the shelf of the freezer door, were two yellowish spots on the smooth, icy surface where Robbie had relieved himself. He glanced to the right and saw the waxed paper exactly where he had left it, partially crumpled and open. He continued to stare, not fully believing what he saw. Is it possible? he wondered.
Feeling a tug on his bathrobe, he looked down to see Maggie gazing upward, her blue eyes misting over. “Could Mama have lost her way when she flew to heaven?”
He blinked for a moment and cleared his throat as he reached down to scoop his daughter up into his arms. “No, she couldn’t have, because heaven’s angels guided her on her journey. There are angels of the earth and of heaven. Earth angels are souls like you, Mags…those who help the Robbie’s of this world find their way.”
Hearing a familiar sound outside, Papa glimpsed at the backyard through the glass door and smiled. He walked to the door, opened it slightly and nodded to his daughter at what lay beyond.
“Oh, Papa…” Maggie whispered. The same knowing smile lit up her face. Past the porch steps in the light of dawn, the dogwood tree had finally begun to spring its white cloud of blossoms as a gathering of birds chirruped their early morning songs.
The Maggie & Papa Series
This is the third story from the Maggie and Papa series. There is one story for each season in this year of Maggie's life, which is the year she lost her mother. Each season seems like a year for little Maggie, as seasons are much longer in the passage of time for young children. Autumn is the first in this series; The Falling Year.
© Copyright 2010 by Genna East. All rights reserved.
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