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That Thing with Feathers: Hope and Literature in a Time of Pandemic

At his home on the doorstep of Colorado National Monument, Charlie Quimby watches a nest-builder at work as he contemplates his quiet quarantine with his spouse—writing, cooking, walking, waiting. Wildlife is always nearby in his beautiful corner of the West, but the finch and her mate are close. So very close.


The Finch in the Cholla

by Charlie Quimby

In the weeks before the stay-at-home order comes down in Colorado, a finch starts building her nest in the cholla nearest our east-facing window. The prickly crook she has chosen, four feet off the ground, seems ill-advised until we consider. Juniper are scarce here. The greasewood is too dense, and the giant cottonwoods along the wash have died and toppled since we built this place.

With avian conviction, she strings grasses and yellowed stems of weeds. I worry for her.

A red-chested male stands sentinel atop a metal sculpture. Two years ago a down-canyon microburst sailed our neighbor’s hot tub cover a hundred yards to knock over the sculpture, bang against our house ten feet from the cactus, and send half the cover into the brush a quarter mile away. The same wind dislodged a forty-pound sandstone cap from a wall to shatter in the driveway.

This property disclosure was not offered to the finches before they moved in.

At the cactus base, I leave an offering of dryer lint and strands of green garden twine. Immediately, the birds swoop in, even though the nest at this stage is barely framed.

From then on, I leave them to build as they see fit.