About the time my older daughter returned home from her year away at college, a Mourning Dove moved in.
Well, actually it was two, a male and female, but it took me seeing them together in the nest to figure that out.
The pair built their nest on top of a pillar underneath my front porch. Through my front window, I could see everything without disturbing them. Intrigued by the nesting habits of these graceful birds, I began researching all there was to know about Mourning Doves.
Where they got their name (from their soft, sad-sounding coo’s)
How they make their cooing sound (they puff up their chest and send vibrations to their skin)
Where they stockpile seeds for later digestion (their crop)
The purpose of the whistle-like sound of their wings (a warning to anything threatening their safety)
The reason Mourning Doves are so successful at raising many broods of chicks (the strong bond formed by the mating pair)
Throughout the month of May, I checked the nest first thing every morning and throughout the day, so I wouldn’t miss a moment of this miraculous process.
By early June, one squab (a baby Mourning Dove) appeared. Over a ten-day period, the hatchling grew quickly. By Day 14, he was ready to fledge. Through the front window, my daughters and I watched Eugene (named by Avery) take his first flight while his proud parents observed from a perch close by.
Witnessing this entire lifecycle was miraculous and joyful, which perhaps is why the letdown was so hard. Out of habit, I found myself continually checking the nest. Seeing the empty nest saddened me. I felt a little lost without the birds’ centering presence.
After a bit of soul searching, I realized that without the birds as a distraction, I had to acknowledge this was my first “stable” summer since 2020. June 2020 marked the beginning of a three-year storm for our family. For some reason, the summer months during that period were the worst, often revealing just how much of the foundation been uprooted and left in disarray.
What would Summer 2023 bring? That was the question. Our four-member family had been separated for nine months due my older daughter attending college for the first time. In many ways, the space had given way for healing, maturity, and perspective.
What would happen when we all were under one roof again? I worried.
In my extensive research of Mourning Doves, I learned several theories about their symbolism. One popular belief is that a Mourning Dove is sent to you during a time of crisis. The explanation of this theory felt so comforting that I’d written this down in my notebook:
“The Mourning Dove’s presence brings a sense of optimism, encouraging us to embrace fresh starts and believe in the potential for renewal and positive change… they remind us of transforming and growing in ways that allow us to let go of the past.” (source)
Although the doves were gone, the fact they’d been there when my older daughter returned from college felt like something to hold on to.
On June 15, while unloading the dishwasher, I heard the unmistakable whistling sound of Mourning Dove wings. Could it be? Could they be back? I wondered as I ran to the window.
On the opposite pillar to Nest One, the pair of doves were building Nest Two. One piece of pine straw at a time, the male dove brought building supplies to the female who used her beak to begin assembling the new nest.
I pumped my fist and let out a (quiet) celebratory cheer. Having the birds “home again” felt like a good omen, and I vowed to relish every part of this miraculous process.
Within a few days, the doves began taking turns sitting on the eggs in Nest 2.
There was something that perplexed me though. Compared to the intricate construction of Nest One, Nest Two looked like a complete rush job. While one had tall, sturdy sides, the other had barely enough twigs to cushion the ledge.
“Hey Natalie and Avery,” I called to my kids. “What do you think about the difference in their two nests?” I asked curiously.
After a moment of consideration, they agreed that the real question was: “Why didn’t they just use the old nest?”
After that not-so-helpful input, my daughters promptly went back to what they were doing.
Ok, I thought. So, the novelty’s worn off for everyone else, but maybe Bird Stalking Round 2 isn’t for them… maybe it’s for me.
Next to the window, I placed a little notebook and pencil. Tucked inside was an illustration by researcher Dr. LeAnn Renninger that I saw on Instagram. It felt like the ideal theme for my annual summer social media break. It said:
What if the antidote to exhaustion is not rest… it is the recultivation of wonder?
As someone who finds the concept of “rest” difficult, I was excited about this idea of cultivating wonder to calm my nervous system, perhaps for the first time in a series of hard summers. And I had the perfect place to do it.
Each day, I sat at my Wonder Window taking notes of what transpired in and around that poorly constructed nest.
Sometimes I would feel so invested in these birds that fear crept in.
What if the eggs don’t hatch?
What if the parent falls prey to a wild animal?
What if a baby falls from that flimsy nest?
Whoa…. this is your Wonder Window not your Worry Window, I’d remind myself and take a deep breath.
Sometimes when I was sitting quietly beneath my Wonder Window, I could hear my daughters interacting in the kitchen.
new ways of connecting
new topics being broached
a hint of rebuilding what had been lost in the storm.
When I sensed an interaction going down a touchy path, I remained still, just like the mama bird.
Wonder; don’t worry.
Wonder; don’t worry.
Wonder; don’t worry.
To wonder means to view something you've seen before in a completely different way. When we enter a state of wonder, an opening is created; a possibility arises for us to view the world differently and to come to a different understanding.
Over the summer, that is what happened to me.
Wondering about this bird family helped me wonder more about my own.
To see my children’s relationship through new eyes and new ears helped me release the past, accept the messy present, and trust their rebuilding process.
The foundation won’t look like it originally did, or how I might hope it to, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective at nurturing what grows there.
In the end, two baby birds successfully fledged from that makeshift nest – one more than the last brood. The day before the fledglings left their nest, I found Natalie standing at the Wonder Window. I noticed she was studying the two nests, one on each pillar.
“They’re going to run out of places to nest,” she said with concern.
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” I said, feeling more at peace than I had in what felt like a million summers.
It’s a wonder how love can rebuild with some time, patience, and a few straws of hope.
Dear friends, I currently have two opportunities for wonder, self-discovery, and community this fall:
- In three short months, I will be leading my Soul Shift weekend retreat in the tranquil mountains of Boone, NC. The most meaningful aspect of my work is gathering in-person with my community. There is something truly magical about getting in touch with the forgotten and neglected parts of ourselves while in the loving presence of those on a similar journey. This will be my third year at the Art of Living Retreat Center. It is where I have met so many beautiful human beings and have made transformative discoveries about myself. There is a place for you there this October. Registration is open and you can learn more by clicking here.
- If traveling is not an option for you and you would still like to experience Soul Shift with the support of like-hearted people and myself, I invite you to participate in my Soul Shift online course. A new 8-week session begins September 11. We will be breaking down the small steps to ditching self-defeating habits and beginning new, healing practices. Because the journey is self-paced, you can begin at any time after that date and go at a pace that feels right for you. Participants find that even adopting one of the eight practices I teach in the course, there is a positive difference in their home environment, relationships, and personal wellbeing. Lessons take about 10 minutes each day and come in your email inbox. Members also have lifetime access to the course content and can refer to it when needed. In celebration of my new Soul Shift book, the upcoming session of Soul Shift will also include live gatherings via Zoom so we can interactively support each other as we make healing shifts in our lives.
If interested in learning more about the course, simply click this link. When registration opens in September, all the information you need will come straight into your inbox. Deep gratitude to you for supporting my work through the purchase of my books, course, and retreats.
Soul Shift is the fifth book my cat Banjo has supported me through. We are very proud of this one!