Monday, May 26, 2014

The Wren

photo from wikipedia commons
I painted while she scolded from the safety of green leafy branches. She was concerned, this little brown wren with the perky tail and gravel voice, that I was too near her nest and the as-yet featherless babes within. She did not see that the nest, twelve feet above me in the eaves of my rough-sided house, was out of my reach. She did not trust me, my paint-laden brush or the table I was painting. We had invaded her space and that was enough.

I wondered if she remembered the turkeys of three years ago, and if she was watching as we advanced with murderous intent on the fat, clueless birds that chuckled and waddled in their wire pen. I wonder if she recalled that day of infamy when heads rolled and red blood splattered white feathers and sharp-edged hatchet. I wonder if she remembered the tumult of flapping wings clamped under an upturned washtub and the spilling of guts on the ground.

Perhaps she has reason not to trust the hands that feed her. Those hands fed the turkeys and look what happened to those lumbering birds. She darts from branch to branch and in the nest her children cry for food, for the comfort of their mother yet still she dares not come near. I stodgily continue to paint, ignoring the drama above me as guilt floods through me.

Was it so, I muse, in 1930’s Europe? Did people squawk and cry as the Third Reich claimed victims, splattering country after country with the blood of innocents? Did they feel as helpless as this Carolina wren, flitting about helplessly as the grim march of boots and guns squashed the dreams and futures of thousands in their path?

My brush strokes and strokes, white covering deep maroon mahogany stained from years of use and misuse. When it is finished, I stand back and study my work. The table looks almost new again; where once it had been destined for the trash heap, it has been redeemed and given another life. Just so Europe, I think; the scars of war are covered with new buildings, new governments, and a new life after near death.  I feel absolved, but only for a moment, because there are those turkeys to consider.

The turkeys had no salvation or resurrection unless one counts the neatly wrapped white packages that filled our freezer after butchering day was done. We came, we killed, and we kept the spoils. The wren’s anxiety might not be misplaced for if we did such deeds to one bird, why not to another? Guilt returns. I watch the wren for a moment longer, and then retreat to the shade of the porch. She darts to the nest, her babies’ cries louder as she drops her offering among them. It is a worm, an earthworm with bits of earth clinging to its wet body.

The wren completed her work and flew off, presumably to fetch more food. I return to my painting, thinking about that worm being torn to pieces by young beaks. Such it is, and such it has always been. One kills to survive—worm or turkey, the motive and the end are the same.  The war in Europe had no such reason; it was not survival but the need for power and control that fueled the bloodbath we call World War II. I know my reasoning is simplified and that the issues of war are more complex than this.


photo from wikipedia commons
My thoughts are interrupted by a squawk and fluttering wings. The wren has returned. I pick up my paint and brush and leave the porch to her. She is the victor on this field of battle today, and I am happy to let her win. The table is finished, or nearly so, and the babies above me need to be fed.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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