A house wren is making a nest in the wreath on our front door. When my wife and I want to go out on the porch, we make sure to knock on the inside of the door just in case the wren is there—just a little knock to warn her. We’re only six months married, our half-year anniversary—newlyweds at the ages of sixty-one and fifty-nine—and this is the life we dreamed all the long years when we lived unhappily with other people in our separate houses. Perhaps we don’t deserve our happiness—we who hurt others along the way to get here—but this is a home of windows and light, and each morning, when I wake, I give thanks. We’ve come here to spend what time we have left together. Cathy has made a wreath of silk flowers, and in the bottom of that wreath, a wren has found a place to build her nest.

Summers, when I was a boy, sparrows sometimes came down the chimney on our farmhouse and scrabbled around inside the stovepipe before flying out through the damper. There they were, amazed and frightened by being where they’d never intended to be. They made frantic flights, swooping and rising around our living room. I was a sensitive child, and they terrified me. What was I afraid of? Perhaps it was the unpredictable nature of those flights—from ceiling to curtain rod and lower still. Who knew where those birds might end up now that they’d crossed over into the human world? I’m really not sure. I only know I couldn’t be inside the house when a bird was loose. I waited in the yard until my mother was able to shoo it out with a broom. To this day, I’m uneasy when a bird happens to be flying around inside an airport, a gymnasium, a shopping mall.

But who can know the restless heart and how it looks for home? My great-great-grandmother, Betsy, was born in Nicholas County, Kentucky, in 1810. From there, she traveled to Brown County, Ohio, and then on to Lawrence County, Illinois, where she died in 1867. She died from bronchitis after being bedfast for a year. Before her health failed, she was a weaver. I like to think of her at her loom in her log house on a sunny Indian summer day in October—the month of my birth, the month of her death. I imagine yellow leaves on the hickory trees, a warm breeze from the south, dust motes moving about in the sun’s rays. I want to think she loved her life. I want to think the sound of the loom was a happy noise, the threads interlacing into whole cloth, warp and weft coming together as one.

My wife and I first loved each other when I was eighteen and she was sixteen. Then we went our separate ways, as young lovers are apt to do, and had separate lives before finding our way back to each other. Here we are at a time of new beginnings; here we are at spring. A wren is making a nest at our door, and this morning we’ve discovered that a mallard hen is sitting on ten eggs in the catmint along the side of the house.

We’re getting ready to leave for a weekend trip, and Cathy has forgotten a book she wants to take. While she goes back into the house to get it, a duck flies into the catmint. When I tell her what I’ve seen, she goes to investigate. She’s bent over, moving down the row of catmint, when suddenly the duck flies up, her wings riffling right in front of Cathy’s face. She jumps back, startled. “Holy shit,” she says. Amazed, surprised, delighted.

That’s when I want to tell her. Long ago, I made a place in my heart for you. Tended it, kept it alive. Now here we are in this place where the wren and the mallard have come in good faith. I need no other signs to know that trust binds us. The wren has woven a nest from twigs. The mallard’s instincts tell her waiting is the only thing she need do. Here will be the place of birth. New life is ours in time. I made a place in my heart for you, dear Cath, and finally we found our way home.


Lee Martin is the author of the novels The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction; River of HeavenQuakertownBreak the Skin; and Late One Night. He has also published three memoirs: From Our HouseTurning Bones, and Such a Life. His first book was the short story collection, The Least You Need To Know, and a new collection, The Mutual UFO Network, is forthcoming. Also forthcoming is a craft book, Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing of Life, from the University of Nebraska Press.  His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in such places as Harper’s, Ms., Creative Nonfiction, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Brevity, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Glimmer Train, The Best American Mystery Stories and The Best American Essays.  He is the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. He was the winner of the 2006 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching from Ohio State.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore