There’s a robin nest on top of the lamp, under the roof. It’s been there for years. I enjoy watching them and hearing their chirps. My Native brother told me it’s good luck to have a robin’s nest. But that’s all I know about robins.
This morning, I poured a bucket of dish water around my rhododendron. We’re having a drought in Minnesota. So I’ve been collecting used water for plants.
A robin came out of the nest and started pecking the wet ground.
There was rice and vegetables in the water. She must be hungry to pick up the food from mud.
“Oh, you poor thing,” I cooed. “It’s so dirty. You’ll get sick.”
I took out some quinoas seeds, and spread them evenly on the dry ground, thinking the robin would be so grateful for my good heart.
But she ignored it, just kept pecking into the wet mud, her beak and breast covered with black earth, then she flew back to her nest, and spread the disgusting dirt in the nest, then sat down, looking smug-happy.
Hmmm, what’s going on?
“Kiddy kiddy kiddy,” I called, “come and eat the quinoas. It has all the 8 essential proteins.”
But the robin ignored me. She fluffed her feathers, moved around, scratched around, sat down, looked down at me with an even more smug smile.
“Stupid robin,” I muttered, “why won’t you eat the delicious nutritious seeds? Why do you prefer the dirty wet mud? It’s full of virus and bacteria that might kill you!”
She looked down at me with her bright round eyes. Her beak was clean. Her red breast was clean. She chirped and moved about, then aimed her butt at me.
She was MOCKING me!
It suddenly occurred to me that she was using the mud to build her nest. The sticky wet dirty disgusting bacteria ridden mud serves as concrete for her nest, to add weight, to glue the light dry grass, feathers and twigs together, to prevent the wind from blowing it away.
Now I remember growing up building my chicken coop like the mother robin. I remember living in a mud house when I was a farmer in China, when I visited Africa last year…They are cool in the summer, warm in the winter, easy and cheap and fast to build…all we need is a pair of hands, a bucket of water, a pile of mud and straw, and the knowledge passed onto us from thousands of years ago, the knowledge mocked and abandoned and replaced with wood, concrete, glass, steel, oil…all returned to me by a mother robin.
We think we are above nature, we can conquer nature, we are master of nature.
But today I learned, no, I remembered, through an American Robin, that we’re only a beakful of mud away from nature.
Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and came to USA in 1986. She is the founder and director of the Kinship of Rivers project, an international project that builds kinship among the people who live along the Mississippi, Yangtze, Ganges and Amazons Rivers through exchanging gifts of art, poetry, stories, music, dance and food. She teaches creative writing as Professor of English at Macalester College.