Photos © Ann Stratton
One day walking by my neighbor Ann’s house I saw a Robin sitting atop her porch roof. The bird had her deep red breast puffed out and she was looking out over the yard and the Hudson beyond, as if she was finally home. My neighbor Ann had been away at the time and I remember thinking how I had never noticed just how beautiful the Red Robin was. Cardinals are attention seekers with their bright red feathers and flared feathered heads. One can’t help notice a Cardinal and in my home when we first start seeing Cardinals there is usually an outburst of enthusiasm, “Look! The Cardinals are back! Look Mom! That’s a female and that’s a male.” But the Robin’s beauty and presence is subtle like they have no need for accolades. They are perfectly content to go about their business with humility.
When Ann returned a few days later, we were sitting on her porch catching up. Out of nowhere she said, “I don’t think my Robins are coming back this year.” “Why?” I said. She pointed above us, where a cascade of honey suckle had wrapped its way around a grated pillar and atop a ledge under the porch roof sat the most perfect bird’s nest; hidden, camouflaged by the yet to bloom vines of the honey-suckle. Ann went on to say, “I haven’t seen her or her husband, I’m afraid the cats scared them away this year.” My first thought was, “How does Ann know the marital status of these birds?” My second thought was of the Robin I had seen perched on her roof just a few days earlier. “I saw her or him, I saw her the other day right on top of your porch roof!” Ann looked at me somewhat doubtful but I was sure that this was the Robin she referred to, I said, “It was like she owned the place, like she had come home. I’m telling you I saw her.” “I hope you’re right” was all she said.
My neighborhood friends and I spend a good deal of time on our porches. We talk about our lives, about Newburgh, our kids, our work or lack thereof, our physical aches and pains and how we need to open a café in Newburgh. We even take power walks together. Although, when I say “we” I am mostly referring to my two friends Ann and Erica. I will get a text at eight in the morning that reads, “We’re outside ready to walk.” Convincing them and myself the night before that I would definitely be up and ready to walk by eight; I instead sheepishly walk outside in my pajamas saying, “I’m too tired.” They both laugh and I feel good that I provided them with the humor they need to endure their power walk.
A few days later after our Robin conversation, Ann announced to me as I walked up on her porch, “She’s back!” I wasn’t sure which “she” Ann was referring to; I’m not good with pronouns even if they seem obvious to everyone else. I often need a little help in this area. “She who?” I said. “The Robin, the Robin is back and so is her husband.” Ann then pointed to the nest and there I saw the tail feathers of Mrs. Robin or Ms. Robin depending on how liberated she is. “Last year she laid three eggs but one of the babies got thrown out of the nest and didn’t make it. “Harsh,” I thought, “maybe Newburgh is a rough place.”
Every day since the arrival of The Robin family there has been a little step ladder sitting outside on my neighbor’s porch. When I walk my dog past their house I often say to myself, “What is that ladder doing out there? Maybe they’ve just forgotten about it. It might get stolen; it looks like a nice one I just might take it myself.” But then when I got home one day I checked my Facebook newsfeed and there I saw a picture of Ms. Robin sitting in her nest. “Ah,ha! So that’s what the step ladder was for.” I felt like Nancy Drew and was impressed by how clever I was.
Ann, who is also a professional photographer, has since graced her Facebook page with the progress of the Robin family. My daughter and son and I were once again on her porch one afternoon and she pointed out Ms. Robin’s husband, Mr. Robin. She said, “He stays around here or across the street watching out for her. Whenever I go up the ladder to shoot pictures, he comes sweeping in and chirping like a mad man to warn her.” We all watched Mr. Robin bouncing around on the lawn of the mansion across the street and then watched him fly to our garden next door and then back on to my friend’s lawn. Mr. Robin seemed to be checking us all out to make sure we weren’t cats dressed in people’s clothes.
The Robin family could not have chosen a better home than my friend’s house. While my husband and I were looking at homes to buy in Newburgh, we looked at their house several times. Our nick name for their house was The Tuscany House and not simply for its street appearance but for the back yard that looks like one of the gardens of Versailles. I know I’m mixing my Italian and French metaphors, forgive me. We could only have one nick name per house, otherwise it would have gotten too confusing to keep track. We looked at about one hundred houses.
Ann reported in everyday on the progress of her Robin family. Ms. Robin laid three Mediterranean- blue eggs and she sat there diligently, only moving to get food. The first and second eggs hatched and I can’t say that baby birds are cute, but they are miraculous to watch. My friend’s photos of this little bird family are thoughtful, intimate and breathtaking. Unfortunately, the last egg has yet to hatch and will probably not make it, so goes the beauty and harshness of nature. But the other two little birds are getting stronger and bigger everyday and my friend will continue to climb her ladder and be fascinated and passionate about documenting their progress. I’m blessed to live in my neighborhood, surrounded by artists, creative, loving people who see that life is in the details. So yes, Newburgh is for the birds, with all its grace and wonder and I wouldn’t have it any other way.