Every summer I buy the first red hanging geranium I see. I hang it from the front porch of my house. The red flowers match the door. They're the only flowers I've found that will survive there other than impatiens which get awfully leggy. Besides that, the impatiens want daily watering whereas the geraniums are much hardier even in the full blast of Virginia's afternoon sun. That's important.
It’s not that I forget to water: I don’t. It’s not that we travel so much, although we do, but I could get a neighbor kid to pour some water in there when he comes over to feed the cat. It’s the wren.
The geranium attracts a house wren. I have no idea how long-lived they are, but it can’t have been the same wren for 19 years. I could, of course, do some wren research. I would probably discover that the planter is simply in a location wrens like, but I prefer to think it was the first wren's daughter and then her granddaughter and her granddaughter coming home to roost. She’s always a dainty, brown thing with a delicate beak and a fierce stubbornness. This is the spot she chooses for her nest, and this is where it will be.
One year Elaine, a much younger, feistier Elaine, spent summer afternoons hopefully under the nest. The fledglings grew and flew on schedule One year I watered when the birds were almost ready to fly and scared them all into the sky. I searched the yard but waas happy never find one had fallen. One year I mistakenly brushed away what looked like a clump of debris, realizing only too late that I’d destroyed an almost-completed nest, but within the week, my little lady was back, weaving and building. The nest was ready when the time came. It's been a learning process, and I'm glad Lady Wren has been patient with me.
I water the geranium ever other day until one day I tip the watering can and my wren flutters out. She’s no larger than a large moth, but I know now from experience that she's begun nesting. I stop watering: I don’t want her to be frightened or anxious. All expecting mothers should be tranquil.
I still water the other two geraniums, the ones in the large terra cotta pots on the wide front step. They seem to turn brown and cease flowering if they’re not watered. The hanging geranium flowers on. Of course, it gets some rain water, especially if the wind is in the right direction, and it gets shade from the eaves; still, know how it manages to survive.
If I’m patient while looking out the tall window beside the door, I can watch the wren bring twigs and grasses and built her nest. At first it looks like a bunch of crumpled, dead leaves. Slowly it takes structure and becomes a tubular oval, almost a welcoming door. I check it almost every day. Sometimes, if I stand on tip toe, I can sight the eggs, but often their too deep in the nest for me to see. They’re not here yet, but the nest is finished, and I expect them soon.
The eggs will, naturally, hatch into hungry baby wrens which grow quickly to nearly the size of their mother. Often I can't see them, but if I brush a geranium leaf, they open their beaks -- maws, really -- hoping their Mom has come with a treat. She tries to satisfy their insatiable hunger. She's so small and works so hard. One day I’ll look, and the fledgelings will be gone
[This baby's mouth looks like a flower peeping out of the nest.]
I never seem to see any of the fledglings after that, but I won't take the basket down, just in case. Maybe they come at night. Maybe she rests there when I’m not around. Maybe there's a runt down at the bottom of the nest I haven't seen. Yes, yes, I told you I could research it, but the magic comes in letting it be.
In October, when the geranium is well and truly dead, I’ll take down the basket and harvest the nest. Wren’s nests are tricky because they are woven like lace, but if you’re careful, you can scoop it out of the pot without damage. I've only been doing this part for a few years, and a couple of the nests disintegrated , but when I can dislodge a nest, I take it to the old buffet that sits on the back porch and set it there with the rest of my bird's nest collection. I’ve got a couple of sturdy ones that came out of branches that were blown down and a couple of wren's nests. I set this year's nest there and wait for next summer, for her to come home again.