My desk is near the window. I would probably get a lot more done if it weren’t, especially at this time of year. And right now I have such a deadline that I shouldn’t be looking anywhere but at the screen.
I have a garden. It’s not a particularly nice garden because I’m better with words than with plants. Mostly, since I stopped being a cat owner, my garden seems to be a bird feeding station.
I love watching birds. Recently I’ve been watching them gather the materials for their nests. Carrying maybe one twig at a time. One very large twig, often longer than the bird itself. In their tiny beaks. It takes them ages to lift it, and even longer to fly with it to where they want to go. It must be, for us, like hawking a huge tree trunk round in our teeth.
When I see a tiny sparrow with a twig I wish I could build the nest for it. The task looks impossible. It looks even harder than the book I am struggling with right now, the one that seemed like a good idea when I signed the contract, and now seems impossible to get done in the tiny amount of time left. Much easier to look out at the birds. How are they going to get enough twigs? How are they going to know what to do with them? How are they going to be able to put them all together and make a nest and then lay their eggs?
It exhausts me to think about it and there is so much that can go wrong.
When I first moved to this small village in County Down, a pair of housemartins built their odd, mud-hutlike nest in the apex of the side gable of the house. They were charming, if a little bit annoying – noisy beggars, and I was forever cleaning their poo off the roof of the car. But I loved seeing them wheel around and hearing the tiny squeaks of their chicks.
Their nest was a preposterous thing – a sort of mud coconut-shell affair clinging upside down, held on by hope. Then one day I found it smashed on the driveway, the dead chicks spilt over the gravel. The parent birds wheeled and wheeled in shrill distress. I could do nothing. It was unbearable.
A few days later I saw them with bits of mud in their beaks. They rebuilt. They raised another brood of chicks. They, or their descendants, return every year. Their upside-down mud hut clings on.
I still haven’t finished this book and I don’t quite know how it is going to end. I’ve been asked to write about the Easter Rising of 1916, and right now it feels too big for me, and much too scary. And I should be working on it right now, instead of looking at birds flying round with twigs in their beaks.
I don’t know how they do it. I wish I had the instinct for this story that they have for their collecting, and carrying and flying and building and rebuilding. But I will do it. Twig by twig.