Saturday, May 14, 2022

Wilmette Notes: Respite

   After you've read a certain writer for a while—last month Wilmette Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey passed, without fanfare, her second anniversary contributing to this space on Saturdays—you get a sense of their moods, their rhythms, their ups and their downs. I read the essay below and thought, "She seems her old self again; a little lighter mood. The spring must be doing its work." Maybe you feel the same.

By Caren Jeskey
I will take an egg out of the robin’s nest in the orchard,
I will take a branch of gooseberries from the old bush in the garden, and go and preach to the world;
You shall see I will not meet a single heretic or scorner,
You shall see how I stump clergymen, and confound them,
You shall see me showing a scarlet tomato, and a white pebble from the beach.
                                —Walt Whitman
     Ever since childhood, the eye popping blue of robin’s eggs has been one of my favorite things, probably because my mother felt the same way. My folks put birds, trees, insects, woods, water, and dirt on our radar from the moment we hit this planet, my siblings and me. I can still feel sand crunching between my teeth from peanut butter sandwiches on Wonder Bread at the beach. We lived outside whenever we could. 
     When I was gifted with eggs from neighbor’s chickens in Austin I’d carefully blow out the insides and save the almost weightless shells. They sat decoratively on windowsills and eventually ended up in the compost bin. When I lived in a tiny house with a chicken coop in early COVID times, the hens would leave warm oval offerings and I’d interact with them in multiple ways. First, just picking them up gently and feeling the weight in my palms, and admiring their hues. Then I’d place them into a bowl on the kitchenette counter as a pretty display. I’d gaze at the prettiness in the bowl on and off for days, and eventually crack them open— one or two at at time— to scramble up in a cast iron skillet on the portable electric stove top.
     The mind can be a complicated place. The same murky matter that plays traumas and insults over and over— and fears aging, loss, and death— can become still and serene by a simple unexpected joy, such as finding a nest full of eggs at the lakefront as my niece and I did last weekend. What a boon for this egg lover!
     We were at the Lighthouse Beach off of Central in Evanston on a much needed sunny day, and ended up in the wooded area with a gigantic climbing tree and rocks overlooking the lake. We built an epic fort with a tree-stump living room. My niece had me peel long strips of bark off of branches and sticks we had scavenged, which we used as twine.
     I noticed a thick ropy vine hanging down over a small tree, and pulled at it to see if I could break it off for fort lumber. As I tugged, I quickly realized that it was holding tightly to the tree, so I let it go. As the tree snapped back into place I saw a female robin flutter away. I took a closer look and there it was. Her nest, just a foot or so over my head. I held up my camera and snapped.
     I’ve never before found four perfect little blue eggs in an exquisitely crafted nest. I needed this tiny gift. Being at the lake with loved ones on a sunny day was great, and finding these babies was the sweet buttercream icing on the cake. In this truly vida loca, Mother Nature is still my refuge.
     I thought a lot about those eggs in the coming days and had a strong feeling that they would not make it. As the season finally relented and invited us outdoors, the beach and surrounding parks are becoming busier. With all of that activity I felt concerned for the birds. I also saw plenty of squirrels perching nearby, and a hawk hangs out there too.
     Last night I finally made it back to check on the babies. I held my camera up and snapped, and it was just as I’d thought. There were two eggs left, one sliced wide open with sticky yellow insides exposed. The other had a small round hole pecked clear out of it, with no movement inside. I also found a near whole, empty egg shell under the tree.
     All living beings are the same. We come into this world, and if we are lucky we survive. Along the way we might get henpecked or worse, and we also accomplish great things, big and small. We will all, as Walt Whitman did, eventually lose our ability to enjoy any of them. It’s time for me to get out on my bike now and do as Mary Oliver said in her poem "Summer Day:" Take advantage of this one wild and precious life.


  1. During my teens, a beauty queen on my block drove a classic Ford Thunderbird two-seater, the '56 model with the white hardtop that had the iconic portholes behind the doors. It was a stunning blue, with a blue-and-white interior that duplicated the exterior paint. That shade is known as robin's-egg blue, because it exactly matches those eggs in the nests. Eye-popping, indeed, and just as lovely to look at. Some kids still named their cars in the mid-60s. I would have named hers "Poetry In Motion." the song.

    Only about 15,000 of those '56 T-Birds were ever made, and very few of them were robin's-egg blue. So they were, and are, extremely rare...and now they selll for very big bucks. My neighbor was sixteen, rich, spoiled, and reckless. The front end of that beautiful car ended up wrapped around a tree.

  2. Perfectly timed column as we end our semi-annual visit to Chicago to spend time with our son. We always choose the second week of May and October. The weather is wonderful and we get to go to the HIdeout’s “A Scientist Walks Into a Bar”.
    Even with its faults, Chicago is such a wonderful refuge from our downward spiraling state of Florida.
    I hope those who live here appreciate what treasures this city has. From the genuinely nice people, to the endless cultural opportunities, the food, the parks (bike riding on the Lakeshore Trail never gets old), and the political climate (You will never see a BLM sign in a store in Florida.) among so many others.
    Now we do in the manner of Whitman and return to Governor Desantis’ state. He’s a truly dangerous man.
    October cannot come to soon.

  3. Those eggs are lovely, indeed. My primary takeaway is "I wish I'd seen those," followed promptly by the poignant while petty realization that if I had, I'd have thought "those are nice" and proceeded on, rather than using the occasion as a springboard to compose a charming essay like this...

    Perhaps I'm a little disconsolate about the fact that the best part of Spring is so short, and this year we've pretty much been presented with weeks with rain and temps in the 40s followed almost immediately by days in the 90s!

  4. Another good essay from Caren.
    I do have to get out more. I’m talking out among the crowds in the city, away from my northwest suburban safety zone.

  5. Thank you Ms Jeskey. A lovely Sunday morning piece, as Spring finally arrives here in Omaha. We do miss Chicago so.


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