It was spring time at Green Cottage. The dandelions dotted the grass with yellow polka dots and the lilacs filled the air with sweet perfume. The apple blossoms were finished blooming and green leaves filled its tree. George's mother had taken down her heavy, winter curtains and replaced them with white lace ones for the warmer days to come. "Ahh, that feels better" she said. "Now, we can open the windows and enjoy the evening breeze in our sitting room." How George loved to watch the gentle wind blow the soft, airy curtains back and forth.
Each day, George put on his red rubber boots and walked outside. He wandered around the cottage, looking for signs of spring. This time, he noticed the vines that grew up all around the house. Their yard was a small city garden, but his mother and father filled it with plants. Each year, they would dig out some grass and put in more flowers and ground covers that creep along the ground. "The birds and the bees love all kinds of plants" his parents would say. "Not just trees, but bushes and vines too. You never know where they might next build a home."
George could see that all kinds of vines grew around the house. Climbing roses and honeysuckle climbed along the front porch. It was a good place to sit at night and smell the sweet perfume. Around the arbor in the back garden, purple clematis twirled around bright pink roses. And all of the old fences were covered in Silver Lace vine. "That one is nick-named 'mile-a-minute' " said his mother. It grows so fast, you would think it grows a mile a minute!" And on the north side of the house, the whole wall was covered withVirginia Creeper. That was George's favorite vine, as its leaves turned bright red in the fall and they were full of purple berries for the birds to eat.
George knew all of the names of the vines around the house, except for one. All of the other vines lost their leaves in the winter, but this one stayed green all year long and its stems were quite sturdy. It was an evergreen and it climbed up and up and made a frame around the entrance to the front door.
"What's this vine called?" he asked his mother, pointing to the shiny green leaves. "That is a euonymus" replied his mother. "You-won-a-what?" George tried to wrap his tongue around this big, new word. "You-won-a-muss" she repeated slowly. "It rhymes with Grandpa Russ. And it sounds like Michaelmas and Christmas, she said. "Oh, I can remember that!" said George. "You-won-a-muss" he repeated to himself over and over as he looked at the leaves.He liked learning new words and he made up a little verse to help him remember:
You won a muss, You won a muss
You sound like Grandpa, Grandpa Russ
You won a muss, You won a muss
Your leaves stay green, even at Christmas!
He thought of his Grandfather Russell, who lived at the bottom of Precious Mountain and his big vegetable garden. He remembered Grandpa's favorite crop to grow was potatoes, of every shape and color.It was his grandfather who taught George's mother a love for the garden and all things that grow. He would be visiting him soon in summer and eating fresh food from his garden.
One day, as George stepped outside for his usual morning walk, he was just about to go out the front door when his mother stopped him. She put her arm around his shoulder and whispered "shh...there is a tiny new nest at the top of the euonymus vine. While I was tying my honeysuckle to the porch fence this morning, a mother house finch swooped right over my head and landed in the apple tree. She looked right at me, as if to say in a scolding voice: 'stay away from my new nest!' Sure enough, I tip toed across the porch and peeked at the vine. There, I could see a tiny brown nest, no bigger than the palm of my hand."
George looked at his mother's hand and marveled at how small that nest could be. Then, he remembered how tiny the house finches were. They flew away every winter and returned to his home each spring. They were quite colorful, with red or yellow feathers. And how they could sing! Their sweet songs awakened him each morning outside his bedroom window.
George's mother continued to tell him about the house finches. "The mother and father finches have built a nest in the vine.It is a safe, protected place from the wind and sun. The mother will lay her eggs and keep them warm until they hatch. Let's remember to quietly walk on the front porch to let them be in peace until the babies are born.Listen closely George, and some day soon, you will hear them sing in the early morning."
George waited and listened. He kept the feeder filled with linseed and and placed a clay saucer with fresh water on the ledge. He found a flat stone and put it in the center for the birds to land on. He watched the mama bird fly from the nest to the feeder to the apple tree trunk and back again. He smiled at her, thinking 'your secret is safe with me'.
As George waited every day, he finally asked his mother "how long before those eggs hatch?" It was getting harder to wait until he could hear those baby birds sing. "A few more days" replied his mother. When the dandelions and lilacs are finished blooming, that will be just about the right time." Soon, George found other things to do in the garden.He poked about here and there with his lucky stick and found all kinds of bugs: worms, beetles, ants and even some lady bugs. Then, one morning, he noticed that the purple lilacs were fading and turning to brown. "Oh" he said to himself. He remembered what his mother said about the baby finches being born.
He tip toed towards the front porch and sat down on the steps. He was quiet as a mouse. He listened and waited. He tried not to look up too many times at the wee nest, but he was so excited! Just then, he saw the father finch fly to the nest. He knew it was the father, because his head and chest were rusty red. George heard the sound of tiny baby birds "peep, peep, peep, peep, peep" they all cried in high voices. The mama and papa were perched on the edge of the vine, bending their heads inside the nests and feeding the babies.
There was a flurry of sound and a flutter of wings for a moment, then all was quiet and still. Mama finch settled into her nest and wrapped her wings around her babies, keeping them warm and safe. Papa finch stood on the sturdy vine just outside the nest, looking out and keeping watch. And the euyonomous vines wrapped its shiny green leaves all around the nest. All were safe and warm.
George thought of those babies and smiled. "I know just how they feel" he said to himself. "After supper, when my belly is full, my mother puts her arms around me too. We snuggle in bed with a story to help me fall asleep. My bed is a lot like that wee nest."
And for many days that spring, George awoke to the sweet songs of a happy family of house finches. He listened to the changing sounds of the babies from peeping to squawking to singing. And one day, they flew away and were free. But George always kept the feeder full and the saucer filled with clean water, as he knew the songbirds would return the very next spring.
written by Christine Summerfield/May 2016