By Roger Barbee
A slight breeze blew in from the southwest, the first sunlight streaked through the pines at Kenny's house giving sparkle to the dew, two cups of coffee sat on the yellow table in the screened porch, four of our five cats lay about on shelves or in boxes watching robins and doves on the driveway, and three dogs slumbered. A fine morning was breaking at Red Hill, and all was peaceful, not even the interstate roar shattered the calm. As Mary Ann and I sat, looking toward Short Mountain as if expecting something to happen, it did. But not on the mist-filled mountain.
Some years ago, Mary Ann purchased a small (4x6 inches) birdhouse that was built and painted to look like a washing machine. Because of its theme, clean clothes, the only logical place for it was on one of the clothes line posts.
I fastened it to the post under the aged sugar maple tree and faced it to the screened porch so that we could observe its occupants. Each season since its hanging, it has housed some pair of nesters, usually chipping sparrows, but one year a pair of Carolina chickadees raised a brood. Each fall it has been taken down, cleaned out, and given any needed repairs. Mary Ann's inexpensive purchase has provided us many mornings of watching and learning, and this morning we both witnessed something neither of us had ever seen.
Our gaze was moved from the mountain to the birdhouse by a movement. As we sat sipping coffee, we saw one of the adult sparrows light on top of the post and lean into the box. A small, fledgling head appeared in the hole.
The adult flew up into the sugar maple. The small head disappeared back into the box. Then reappeared. Then disappeared. This cycle happened many times, but each time it appeared, the small body ventured further out of the hole. Then suddenly it fluttered on its fledging wings into the tree's foliage. Then another head appeared in the hole, repeating the same process, but when this one left, it sailed into the grass, then fluttered just above ground to the weeping cherry.
As if it had learned by the first two, the third did not need as many looks out of the hole. It peeked out a few times, disappeared, then fluttered all the way to the weeping cherry. With its departure, we thought all had made their maiden flight. After all, the box was small, so three fledglings and two adults seemed quite a house full. But wait, an adult perched on the post and went into the box. Soon, a fourth, small beak appeared and it surveyed the territory. After much prodding by the adult, we thought, it flew in a haphazard pattern to a post near the tree. We waited, wondering if another would emerge, but the adult exited and flew to the weeping cherry, "the runt" of the brood having been pushed out of the nest.
Neither of us had ever witnessed fledglings on their first flight, and we marveled at the small wings propelling the just as small bodies about our yard as the two adults guided. We watched, drinking coffee, and discussed in a limited manner, the odds for all four fledglings' survival. We also talked of the adult and it going into the box for the seeminlgy purpose of forcing the last out. What a parent, we decided, for on that morning, after all care and grooming was complete, the adults knew that it was time -- time for those babes to fly into the world and learn its ways.
Now, I know there is a difference between sparrows and students. However, there is the obvious similarity this time of the year. Across this nation, students in high school and college are ready to fly into the world and learn its ways. Just like the four small fledglings, these students will soar in different ways, and, just like the fledglings, some will encounter difficulties. But my hope is that our students, at whatever level of graduation, will have been as well prepared as the fledglings. I hope for them determination, courage, wisdom, patience, and a sense of justice. Oh, and a good set of wings will help, too.