Hatching Plans

From the nest.

close up photography of bird nest

We watched the nest with time nodding in our direction, like Wait for it and our mothers said Don’t touch. We kept a holy vigil, peeping. They hatched when we were at school and we missed it. There they were: fuzzed heads, open beaks, waiting mouths. Their cheeping. We stood there, beholding our capacity for a reverence so raw, suspicious already that it would expire.

We missed their first flight, too, and their last day in the nest. One day we came home, and it was empty. Just like that. Later, it was gone.

There were things we wanted to know about birds––no, that’s not right. We found these lessons dull: rapid hearts and hollow bones, we nodded, watching the clock for dismissal. What I mean is that there were things we wanted to know as birds, of flight and how you would go about doing it for the first time. And how to land––anywhere, really. As opposed to floating off like forgotten balloons. And how did a body manage to break its shell, the boundary between almost living and now? To say Go! and mean it, beyond the race, the mere game. If we were birds, we would know we were real.

When one landed, the grandmothers knew it as the dead returning. When one came inside a room, it was a warning, desperate wings and beak sirening against the windows. We called for someone grown to help it out.

A warning about what? We wanted to know. But they only said that something is coming.

We meant to keep watch, but we kept missing the moment for the secret. We meant to bird ourselves up and out, far from the shadows that held us, to get to the part in living where we could cast our own––long and wide, over everything.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I keep watch and listen, mostly in dark places.

14 thoughts on “Hatching Plans”

  1. I’ve never known if “come out of your shell” referred to eggs or to turtles. A lot to like in this piece, like drawing the distinction between knowing about birds vs knowing the birds’ experience of life. And “We meant to keep watch, but we kept missing the moment for the secret.”
    One of my grandmothers was convinced a bird in the house meant the imminent death of a loved one. The “something is coming” was a separate superstition, really “something wicked this way comes,” to do with picking up fallen silverware before you’d stepped on it for luck.
    You really had to watch your step & stay on your toes in my grandmother’s house!

      1. Robert, I love these! It’s funny, when I was very young I thought “come out of your shell” referred to sea creatures like crabs and mollusks, etc., and so imagined it a much less permanent proposition, and for this I am grateful! I love the silverware reference, as I’ve never encountered this one before.

  2. This is just so …. lovely. Wrapped in the want and need, the curious desire to experience and know, beyond book learning or what we are told. I marvel at the inflections, the pauses, the way you’ve so brilliantly captured the enthusiasm and disappointments. And the yearning is so palpable … that endless desire to be flight … as if we once knew and had wings.

    This captivates and sparkles. Made my day for happy wanderings here and there, as is so often the case with your words.

    1. What a beautiful gift to receive this generous message right now! Deep gratitude, friend. Wishing you a joyful weekend!

  3. Your post makes me wonder when consciousness begins–for birds and people. One minute you’re sitting in your shell, the next you want to get out. How long have you been contemplating that. I know that fetuses react to music and voices and certain foods. Is it a reflex or actually interaction. You’d thing I would have contemplated this sometime in the last 60 years.

    1. Jeff, that’s such a great question, especially the part about how early it starts. I don’t consciously recall being in the womb, but I cannot remember not having this feeling. Of course (as with so many things) I lacked the words. As I got older, I gathered that most people did not seem to walk around having this feeling, but some still seemed to show impulses toward it. And then as I got much older, I tended to gravitate towards artists inclined to consciously explore it. I love how most artists (maybe all people, but it’s easier to witness in the artists) seem to have one or a handful of perennial obsessions, so I guess this must be related to some of mine : )

  4. When you are going through a stretch of bad luck, when you cannot pay the debt collector, when you cannot buy the eggs, these superstitions make more sense.

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