LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

"Maybe they've gotten their seasons mixed up." What else was one to think? It was mid-December, yet the trees against our bedroom window had burst forth like pink popcorn. But this wasn't Florida or Southern California, it was the Pacific NW — latitude 47° — and we already had snow, although admittedly it wasn't much of a snowfall and the winter thus far seemed milder than those we had experienced in New Mexico in prior years. A neighbor quickly set us straight: "They're winter-blooming cherries."

Fifteen seasons later, my husband Sam and I continued to exclaim about the unorthodox, lovely blossoms that greeted us each gloomy winter's day — pink petals that glistened in the rain or gently emerged and disappeared through the fog. The blooms lasted until early March before succumbing to rapidly growing new green leaves. For awhile cats and squirrels frolicked or had frenzied races using the trees as convenient links between our roof and the ground. Gradually the squirrels disappeared and then most of the cats, except for one or two neighboring toughs. Not once in all those years had any bird even considered the cherry trees as a possible nesting site.

Yet one day in early May of the sixteenth spring, a robin couple began sitting in the trees, conversing noisily. First they sat on one limb and then on another. It became a daily ritual with excited dialogue, always in the same volume. Then they were gone. We didn't see them for several days and assumed they had found another, more suitable nesting place; but one day Mrs. Robin reappeared with a beak-load of moss and sticks.

She alighted on the upper fork of the tree closest to the window, affixed the materials to the thick "Y," and left. Soon she was back with another load. She worked and worked, weaving the sticks and then stuffing them with mud and moss. She made a wide, solid base on which she constructed vertical walls until she had an open cup, a structural hemisphere.

When the exterior was finished, she brought fine, soft dried grass for the lining, tamping it meticulously with her beak. Next, she went slowly around and around the nest, stopping at short intervals to lower herself onto her chest, enabling her to push or tamp the walls horizontally backward with her feet. Only her beak and tail were visible along with the busy action of her feet. What was an amusing sight to us, a robin lying on its stomach kicking its feet, was serious business to her. As a final touch she butted the whole interior with her body. All in all she worked 12 to 14 hours over a period of four days. Then she disappeared.

A fifth day came and went. No robin. On days Six and Seven, still no robin. On Day Eight she came momentarily, as if to inspect the project, and then disappeared again. Sam and I realized that she was letting the nest dry before she moved in.

What puzzled and annoyed us was that never once during the building process had Mr. Robin shown his beak. Why had he let her do all the work? It was obvious she hadn't needed him; she knew exactly what to put where and knew how to get the job done. However, it would have been gentlemanly if he had brought in a few twigs just to help her out. Maybe he was miffed about something. Perhaps they had disagreed on the layout of the nest or the proximity of it to our window or about the number of children they should have. Or maybe she figured that it wasn't any of his business. After all, SHE was the one who was going to live there, so she might as well build it just the way she wanted.

TO CHAPTER 2