"The Family Tree: A Tale of Sex, Fame, and Sorrow"
By Kit [16 July 1999]

The Nest

The view from my living room window isn't bad, but you can't miss the rusting T.V. antennae and the inelegant butts of buildings. Last fall, hoping to block out the eyesores, I bought a potted tree, a skinny Benjamin ficus that was on sale at the local florist shop. I should have bought a baobab, of course, but the ficus was all I could afford. I kept shifting the six foot tall, poodle-cut tree from one side to another, trying for the best camouflage. Finally, when winter came, I remembered that the ficus has a semi-tropical soul and pulled it as close to the window as possible, to shelter it from the cold. Nonetheless, it lost fifty percent of its leaves, and I could see my neighbor's undies drying on a line once again. What a bummer, I thought. But this spring, the tree has redeemed itself. It has, in fact, gained admission into the society of real trees, the kind in which birds frolic. Read on for sex.

Frolic is clearly too innocent a word for what the birds were up to. We had what sounded like twelve women getting bikini waxes screeching around in the tree's branches, but all that ruckus was made by two libidinous brown-eared bulbuls. I went out three weeks ago to see what was up. The reason was right in front of my nose: a neat little nest.

The nest is an impressively modern installation, a sort of bird's-eye-view of suburban angst. Woven amongst the mandatory twigs are bits of plastic bag, a cigarette carton strip, a ribbon of cassette tape, and downy feathers plucked from the parental birds' own downy feather regions. Or whatever. The construction has so far withstood some strong winds, losing only a bit of the feather lining; if only all abodes were as sturdy.

Throughout incubation, I have been "allowed," while the parent birds screamed bloody murder, to hold a mirror up to the nest so that I could see inside. There were five eggs. When I first saw them, I was so excited that I boomed the news to my husband and son. "There are FIVE EGGS!" My son now believes that all eggs, store-bought included, are a cause for hysteria. My husband, the realist, warned our son that sometimes eggs fall from the nest or get stolen by Darth Vader crows. My son offered to replace any lost eggs with our breakfast ones, and thus were we launched on a long (unsuccessful) explanation of fertilization.

But there's more to this story than has met the eye, unless you're a wicked fast scroller. Here's the fame stuff. The building I live in was once inhabited by the famous writer, Haruki Murakami. Murakami-san is fond of moving, I've heard, so this is not the great honor it might otherwise seem. But, word has it that Murakami wrote his story "The Tuesday Wind-up Bird" (cf. The New Yorker ) in this building. I can't help but wonder if these aren't the same birds, with their tin-bird calls, that Murakami listened to. Apparently, this bulbul bird (known as a "hiyodori" in Japanese) is abundant, eats everything, and,well, is about as exotic as a stray cat, but we all do the best we can in the fantasy department!

As I write this, the morning is too quiet around me. This is the sorrow part. The three fledglings that survived are gone for the first time today. With my mirror, I checked. I could see bits of egg shell, the one egg that never opened, some minuscule baby feathers left behind, and the future, when I might suffer a second empty nest syndrome.

Kit Pancoast Nagamura first arrived in Japan in 1982 on a fellowship from Brown University and I.B.M. Back in the U.S., she took her Ph.D. in literature and won various teaching and writing awards, but always hoped to see Japan again. Settled here since 1991, she now lives in Tokyo with her husband and one son. Kodansha has just published her third book written in Japanese. Writing for her is like breathing for the rest of us. When you meet her, the red hair and sparkling blue eyes promise a quick wit. You will not be disappointed.

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