A few months ago, the doves that whined beneath the eaves and dropped calling card pellets beside the grill set up home. They built a nest and moved in.
We watched it happen. Bit by bit, twig by twig, they girded their fortress, furnished their lair, and became our unwitting tenants, without a contract, in deed or implied.
I wasn't thrilled. Mourning doves are rampant in this part of California. They're on the loud side, not terribly pretty, and when you look them in the eye, they appear cold and stonelike. We didn't bond.
But they stuck around, and each time I'd go out back they'd be there, bearing witness to my life, observing without judging. Their constancy softened me, and eventually, for reasons I can't explain, we became family.
The mother bird spent a lot of time in that nest. The dad would fly to and fro, and though, occasionally, they'd both leave together for a picnic or what have you, the mama was the more stable presence. My son said she was nesting. I thought she just liked my company.
Each morning, as summer approached and dawn broke earlier than the day before, I'd wake to their familiar trill.
Then one day, the birdsong got louder, and when we went downstairs and slid the door open there they were. Not the mama, not the papa, but two baby birds looking square in my eyes.
They were beautiful, just like their parents.
My older son humored me as I checked on them throughout the day. I'd greet them in singsong, ask after their kin, make sure they were happy. Together, we watched the parents come and go, but mostly we'd observe the hatchlings flutter their wings and grow bigger and bigger in a nest built for two.
"You know what's going to happen, don't you?" my son asked me.
My eyes widened. It really hadn't occurred to me.
Yesterday, I opened the door and all four of them were gone.
I stood there and stared, hurt and panicked.
My son hugged me.
"They need to go off on their own," he said, and I knew he was right.
Later that day, they were back. The babies had learned to fly, but the nest is still home base and for now, at least, the family continues to whiz to and fro, commuting. They return at night for a rest and a meal.
It's a good thing, too. I, for one, need a little more time to say goodbye.