TGIF: Watching the ‘circle of life’ from our own living room

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

When we moved into our house many years ago, our back alley was Brownwood’s city limits. Annexation and new home construction soon pushed that boundary farther away, but enough patches of undeveloped areas remain nearby to serve as a reminder that there were other inhabitants of our neighborhood before humans arrived.

We haven’t managed to displace them yet.

My wife and I were reminded of that when we drove home from a meeting in Abilene late Monday night to see a deer and a fawn standing in our next-door neighbor’s yard. I tried to take a photo with my cell phone, but all the camera’s flash did was to briefly startle them. However, they quickly settled down. The photo? Four dots of light reflected by their eyes.

While no deer were seen in our front yard, evidence left behind proved their recent presence — if you get my drift — when we went out in the morning. That, plus the dry bird bath that had been filled with water 24 hours earlier.

This is actually nothing new. A few years ago, a neighbor down the street sent us a photo she had taken one evening of multiple deer grazing in our yard. Fortunately, there was a Full Moon so the lighting was considerably more favorable. At least eight deer had paused to see what they could find to eat. It was quite likely that the Easter lilies we had planted a few weeks earlier were among those meals. It was also obvious that the ivy on the side of the house was tasty as well.

We learned our lesson about where and what to plant in the front yard. Things that are important go behind the fence in the back yard.

The sliding glass door by the kitchen table is our window to certain smaller wildlife, but mostly birds. The bowl of water we keep outside for our cat, who enjoys sleeping outside when the nights are warm, does attract some squirrels. Among our various nocturnal visitors have been other cats, opossums, armadillos, and one friendly skunk.

You don’t have to live “near country,” a term my father liked to use, to encounter most of these smaller critters. To my father’s way of thinking, “near country” was not only a specific locale as it was a description of a lifestyle — mainly, his own — in transition from rural to city-dweller. That’s exactly what is happening to many forms of wildlife as residential and commercial development continues to encroach upon formerly wooded regions.

Regardless, people have always been able to find birds flying about in all sorts of urban settings. There’s nothing unusual about that. In fact, birds are so much a part of our environment that we hardly notice they’re around — until they sit on a tree limb above your parked car and soil your windshield.

My wife and I noticed a beautifully crafted bird’s nest last weekend, waist-level in a shrub not 10 feet away from our back door. With the pleasant spring temperatures we’ve experienced lately, that back door has enjoyed significant foot traffic, so this bird’s nest was not in an ideal location. We debated whether we should remove it, because it appeared to be abandoned. But just maybe, we thought, it only appeared abandoned because any birds working on it were scared away when we opened the nearby door.

We decided to leave it alone.

On Saturday, when I went to turn on the water faucet behind that shrub, I spotted a beautiful blue egg in the nest. I had to get a photo, and this one turned as well as anyone could hope. The next step was to avoid the area and wait for Mama Bird to return. We have a clear view of the nest from the comfort of our living room.

It took a few hours, but she did indeed return. And she’s been on duty in that nest, day and night, ever since. She does take an occasional break, presumably to fly off to find food, but when she does, a bigger bird arrives to stand guard beside the nest. I’ve been told by social media friends that this is probably the father bird-in-waiting, who is ever-present nearby anticipating such duty. Those same friends, who are more knowledgeable about such things, confirmed my guess that this is a family of robins.

On Monday, my wife used low-powered binoculars while Mama Bird was away to establish that another, or perhaps two, additional eggs were in the nest.

As the days have passed, I’ve become increasingly impressed at the dedication these two birds are showing to their young ones. I guess it’s their instinct, but even so, it’s inspiring to watch. I’m sure there are other “bird-type” things they would prefer to be doing, like digging up seeds or perching on a tree limb above my parked car. But instead, they are present for their young ones when they are at the most precarious times in their development, and they will be there after the eggs hatch until they grow into adult birds able to fly and forage for themselves.

On Tuesday, I attended the annual dinner and dessert auction for the Christian Women’s Job Corps. It’s a fun evening, with a couple hundred generous residents bidding for cakes and pies at the hilarious cajoling of auctioneer Rex Tackett. But before the auction, two alumnae of the program eloquently described personal experiences from their youth — tragic experiences that the adults in their young lives either perpetrated or failed to prevent. Then they explained how CWJC helped restore their self-esteem and equip them with skills needed to succeed.

The first thing I’ve done whenever I return to the house this week has been to check on the bird’s nest. That evening, when I looked in, I thought how appalling it is that we humans — who possess what we like to think is a much superior intellect — often don’t care for our young with the same dedication shown by the least of God’s creation — specifically, a pair of birds.

Those of us who have been blessed with a family devoted to the task of caring for their offspring can’t understand how such horrors can occur to others. But for those who aren’t fortunate enough to have this blessing, I’m grateful there are people who support programs like Christian Women’s Job Corps.   

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at