Summer writing is very different from winter writing, I’ve found. This summer I am stationed out on the screened porch…which looks, I know,  like a very calm and placid world. I mean, as long as it’s not raining, of course.

I sit out here and work on my novel, drink iced tea, and every now and then jump up and spray soap solution on my plants. (That plant in the picture, for instance? The one that looks so lush with its purple flowers? It’s currently a patient in  my special Soap Hospital for Plants and has about a 50% chance of survival, I’d say, due to an infestation of aphids that I am every day at war with.)

But my main job, now that I am out here on the porch viewing nature’s ways first hand, is as a nanny to a family of cardinals who are living in the bush that is just on the other side of the screen on the upper right of this picture.

I have always been partial to cardinals due to the fact that my father loved birds, and when he was dying, nearly 20 years ago and I was sitting at his bedside, one of the last conversations we had was about a male cardinal who kept coming to the window and looking in at us. It was one of the few times I saw my father smile during that last horrible illness–kidney cancer–and so I have always associated his memory with those beautiful birds. It’s amazing how many times when I’ve been in a tough spot, I look up and there’s a bright red cardinal just flying close by, and I can’t help it, I always feel as though my father is looking in on me, making sure I’m okay.

So this year a couple of cardinals chose to build their nest right on the other side of my writing porch–and believe me, I got the message. These were birds sent by Dear Old Dad just to keep me working at my novel.

After a rather impressive time of building the nest, the female cardinal sat there for day after day, all by herself. She looked in on me as I wrote, and I kept watch over her eggs when she had to fly away for a few minutes. I felt we were creating a bond somehow. She didn’t even startle when I would get up and head to the kitchen for more iced tea, or when the dog would wag his tail against the screen. Clearly, we were friends.

I was puzzled as to why her husband never had to take a turn on the nest—I mean, fair is fair!–but one of my kids told me that I shouldn’t make too much of their domestic arrangements. “Every species makes its own deals,” said my son.

One day she left the eggs for quite a little while, and a bunch of cowbirds came flocking by, hopping up branch by branch, getting closer to the nest. Really? I thought. Am I going to have to police this nest? But just as I was getting up to go have a stern word with the cowbirds, the male cardinal, in all his splendorous red-itude, came charging into the tree, chirping and chattering and sending those cowbirds packing. It was quite an impressive display of fatherhood, let me tell you. 

And then last Sunday, just when we were all exhausted with the waiting–baby birds hatched!

We porch-dwellers were elated.

(I took this picture of them with their little beaks in the air, and you will see why I have to write novels for a living. I am clearly no nature photographer.)

UPDATE: right now, as I’m writing, both the mother and the father cardinal are on the nest, feeding the babies together. I am pleased to say that the father and mother cardinals are turning out to be exemplary parents, flying in and out at all times of the day, at least 35,000 times during my writing hours here, bringing worms and other delectables…and that the minute there is any kind of danger of other birds moving in, the father swoops down from out of nowhere and chases off the intruders.

He seems to be a good protector, and I notice that he brings by some pretty heft worms, too. So maybe he had it written into his contract that he wasn’t responsible for the egg-sitting stage.

That’s the father, there on the left, peeking into the nest while the mom is away…she probably had to run down to the Save & Discount for some Worm Helper…and on the right, there’s the mother, having returned.

It’s astonishing how much drama there can be on a summer day on screened porch in essentially the middle of Nowhere, Connecticut: epic warfare with aphids, the domestic lives of birds playing out before me, and…oh no! Now a cowbird has taken to flinging itself against the screen multiple times, clearly exhibiting bird psychosis. OMG, now it is lying on its back on the porch ledge, legs in the air and feathers all ruffled up. Perhaps this is a bird death scene (a swan song, as it were)…or merely a temper tantrum over not being able to get at those cardinal eggs.

But no. Now the cowbird flies away, the mother and father cardinals go off to dig up more worms. Little bunnies are hopping around in the garden, and a nice breeze is riffling through the screens, making the dog lift his head and smile.

Except for the busy aphids, all is well on the porch. Back to the novel, where things need to have their own dramas.