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  • Writer's picturekelly keena

year of the robins.

Early in the year, I noticed the songs of the robins more than ever before. I was recovering from a big bout of the flu and hyper-aware of such sounds after the dull hum of the hospital room. The dawn chorus was all robin. Sometimes as early as four o’clock am. At dusk - robins. Their song like a flute bobbing between notes.

They are a common bird where I live. So common, in fact, that they often go unnoticed. They are uneventful. And ever-present.

But I was noticing them more and more. In March, I returned from Peru just as the stay-at-home orders kicked in. We all tucked in. It was still winter/spring and not quite time to languish outside. Through the windows all day every day the robins were there. In May and June as the garden filled with migratory species, I still only saw the robins. This time with fledgling feathers learning to find the worms in our wet ground. Even in August as I escaped the confines of my house to a high alpine lake, robins. Everywhere in my camp and on branches as I hiked around the water.

So, I googled “what is the meaning of the robin?”

The number one result. Perseverance.

No, this was not a scientific query. It was curiosity and an attempt to make meaning of my observations. We are meaning makers. It was everything I needed.

Of course. Perseverance. Because, 2020. I’ll take it.

When my daughter was very young and I was younger, we had a fast-moving spring blizzard. Feet of snow fell in hours. Next to our front porch was a scotch pine tree. The branches rambled a bit, not tidy like drawings of pines. One large branch and I often jockeyed for space over the porch. The pine always seemed to win. As the winds kicked up and the icy snow blew horizontally across the front yard, I noticed five puffy birds tucked into the long branch of this pine. Robins. Their coppery feathers obscured by the ice accumulating on their now fragile bodies.

I knew they were adapted for such storms because of their ever-presence in our ecosystem. They move up and down the elevations for the seasons and there is always an early or late storm as a bookend to winter. But, seeing their puffed out feathers and their beaks tucked down, eyes closed was difficult to watch from only a few feet away through the windows. So, my very young daughter and my younger self bundled up (our own form of puffing out our feathers) and set to building a wind shield out of a blue plastic tarp around our front porch and the long arm of the scotch pine.

The next morning, the tarp had come down despite our best efforts. Drifts of snow-covered a white landscape. And all five robins were there. Alive. Breathing.

Perseverance makes total sense to me. And I know the meaning of a bird by someone I don’t know isn’t science. It is hope.

I woke up today in a world without Ruth Bader Ginsburg and feel a chemical blend of grief and loss. Not because of the political play with all of our futures about to happen, but because I cannot shake the sense of admiration and sadness for her plight these last few years. To be riddled with cancer and deny treatment so that she could hang on and hold her seat - her well deserved seat - on the Supreme Court is painful. Do I admire this determination or feel shame for the state of our world? For the need for her to suffer. Regardless, she is the robin. She is perseverance. I try to fathom the strength it took. And also feel sad that we are in a world that necessitates this type of martyrdom so we don’t slip further into darkness.

And I sit in gratitude outside at dawn with the robins. And I know we will all survive this storm.

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