Words and Images from Ed Felker

Sometimes Nature Just Punches You In The Gut.

This is an Eastern phoebe, hovering over her nest that was, until just minutes before, filled with chirping chicks waiting for an insect delivery.

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What came next is a scene that unfolds countless times every second of every minute of every day in every corner of this planet. Even under the protective shell of my back deck. Predators prey. Nature eats. Life is a circle. This is a rat snake, replete with phoebe chicks. My phoebe chicks.

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My mind tells me, snakes gotta eat too.

My mind tells me if I had gotten home a half hour earlier like I usually do, I probably still wouldn’t have been able to stop it.

My mind tells me the Phoebes who raised the chicks are simply confused. That they are chirping, hovering, searching, out of instinct. That they still go search for, capture and deliver insects for their former brood, out of the pure mechanics of nature. Out of something other than grief or despair. That the concept of hope is infinitely beyond their grasp, so it is not theirs to lose.

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My mind tells me that four surviving birds out of ten total eggs in two broods is actually pretty good.

My mind tells me that any ‘bond’ I’ve built with the Phoebes who inhabit and populate the nest outside this office door is a creation of that very mind. That though I am vigorously protective of them, they neither sense nor rely upon this.

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My mind tells me that the chicks will help sustain a strong, beautiful snake, and as she rests and digests in that hole in the cool earth beneath the deck, she may someday make her own eggs with the help of those nutrients. And that I will encounter the healthy offspring of this snake for generations to come.

My mind tells me that nature, while often violent, is not cruel. That snakes do to birds what birds do to insects. And birds do to insects what insects do to whatever insects do that to. Snakes are not the beginning, and birds are not the end.

My mind tells me that by tomorrow my phoebes will lower their gaze from their empty nest and resume hunting insects for themselves. Not out of courage or bravery, but simply out of survival. And that by tomorrow I, too, will be going about my normal routine.

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My mind tells me all these things, and that all these things are true.

But my heart? My heart flat out aches tonight.

7 Responses

  1. Gene Gaines

    Thank you for your phoebe and rat snake story.

    July 8, 2015 at 5:27 am

  2. Curtis

    Your best ever.

    July 8, 2015 at 7:23 am

  3. Beautifully written. Our Phoebes lost their nest and chicks under our deck last summer to torrential rains. I found the chicks the next morning and buried them. Sadly, the Phoebes no longer nest there, but hopefully have found a better location. I still see them in the yard hunting. The are one of my favorites!

    July 8, 2015 at 8:57 am

  4. Meghann

    Beautiful post. I ‘lost’ a second-brood nest of Phoebes last week at a property I monitor for Cornell’s NestWatch project, and I completely understand your emotions. Thanks for such an eloquent expression.

    July 8, 2015 at 10:06 am

  5. Tim


    I second that emotion. There is no stopping the bluejays that patrol our neighborhood.

    July 8, 2015 at 10:22 am

  6. Sally

    Ed –

    Thank you for another memorable piece. Your prose is so touching and beautifully written that it deserves to be preserved in a book of essays someday. Complete with the accompanying photography.

    July 8, 2015 at 9:31 pm

  7. Anne Dubrow

    Thank you for this very touching tale…My heart aches as well.

    July 22, 2015 at 11:59 am

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