The baby birds have flown.
For days, we had been watching a nest secreted in a tall bush between our front yard and our neighbor’s. Populated by three scrawny, beaky creatures, it had turned into a source of fascination ever since the middle-schooler next door pointed it out to The Hubby.
We couldn’t believe our good luck. Every time one of the grandgirls visited, The Hubby led them to the lookout spot, standing a respectable distance from the birds’ home. Then hoisted up one squirmy body after another — and oh, the exclamations of delight!
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”
“Are they real?”
“They’re so little!”
“Can I touch them?”
“Where’s their mom?”
The mama bird, by the way, was never far; and we tried to balance our curiosity with her parental obligations, intruding only as necessary. Now that her chicks have been launched — taught to fly and worm-hunt — I like to think that she’s perched on a nearby branch, ruffling her feathers with pride. I certainly would be.
The birds reminded me of a lesson I learned a while back, when my own children were young and their view of the natural world — of a dragonfly flitting across the lawn, the fragrant opening of a gardenia bud, and the colorful boast of a rainbow in the distance — made them gasp with a reverence reserved for the new and the magical. Even as a mother who liked to think she was sensitive and open-minded, a creative, I had grown inured to the spell of what was around us. I no longer saw with open eyes.
Then my kids dug holes and showed me the creepy-crawlies burrowing beneath the roots. They pointed skyward, and the moon, the stars, even the streak of white left by a jet plane became worthy of amazement. They sat behind me in their car seats and annoyed me with their endless questions. (At one point, I rewrote the words to “Old McDonald,” singing, “With a why here, and a why there; here a why, there a why, everywhere a why-why.”)
I’m not alone. Over the years we forget to cultivate awe. Little by little, without realizing it, we begin to ignore the miracles around us and shake off the spell of a world that is always changing, evolving, moving. We forget the thrill of being surprised. We grow blind to mystery. We become adults.
Blame it on experience, on the overexposure that makes the unusual familiar, the odd commonplace. But thankfully the little ones help draw back the curtains of curiosity and wonder once again.
My oldest granddaughters, identical twins about to enter their last year of elementary school (where has the time gone?!), are transfixed by space and all the planets and moons and stars in that great beyond. Their interest has reawakened mine and turned the heavens above us into a priceless connection between the generations. I now hunt down the kind of astronomical news that I know will make their eyes wide.
“Did you hear they’ve found 10 more moons around Jupiter?” I asked one of the twins recently.
I handed over my smartphone, where I had bookmarked a story about the discovery and then watched as she slowly read about something so wondrous that she held her breath, mouthing the words as if in a trance. (Did you know that Galileo spotted the first four large Jupiter moons — Callisto, Io, Europa, and Ganymede — all the way back in 1610?)
And then, this past week another doozy: Beneath the frigid surface of a three-billion-year old ice cap on Mars, a lake nearly three times larger than the island of Manhattan has been discovered. Incredible! Amazing!
But maybe the true marvel will happen many, many years from now when as a woman, a mother, perhaps a grandmother herself, my granddaughter will look at the night sky and think not so much of the stars but of her abuela telling her about Jupiter’s moons and Mars’ ancient lake. Wouldn’t that be something?