By Lisa Woodworth

Down the ladder she climbed, one grey scaly foot planted determinedly before the other. The journey down to the bottom of the deep pine nest box seemed longer these days. Somehow, time seemed to pass so quickly when the eggs were warm and smooth beneath her, when the soft blind hungry faces were turned trustingly up to hers.

Perhaps it was because the last of the seasons babies had gone into the house a few days before. Every box had yielded its precious fruit. hibiscus red and sun warmed grape, the fresh lush greens of her island home, the golden hue of the corn she had come to love. Every box, that is, but one.

When the turning of the seasons had brought small, misshapen eggs to the box and there were no little ones to feed, she had grieved. For of all the things she loved in the world, there was none that made her happier than the wriggling forms beneath her sheltering wings, nestled against the glowing amethyst feathers of her ample crop and breast. What would she do, now that there were no more?

The time passed, and the Good One came to the wire with the good warm food, as she had always done. Didnt she know that the nest box was cold and empty this year? Her old mate filled his crop with the soft vegetables and grains, calling his accustomed alarm call to let all the residents of the aviary know that there was ample food for the babies, for all the males to come and see the bounty placed in the shining dishes. The Good One paused at each cage, talking softly to every bird waiting at the wire. Sometimes there was an almond or walnut, a gentle touch of hand to beak or wing if it was wanted.

She had paused at the empty nest box, fumbling at the inspection door. Grandma sighed. She would see the empty box, and soon it would be taken away, never to return. Oh, the happy memories that battered old box held! How she would miss it! But the Good One closed the door and continued on her way, as she always had.

Grandma sighed, and with a flick of her golden tail, disappeared into the opening. Shed not disappoint Grandpa, who was eagerly coming toward her, crop bulging. Hes always been such a good provider, keeping her fed and comfortable while the eggs darkened and filled beneath her, helping her remove the shattered shells once they were no longer needed. Every little one received all that it could hold from his gleaming golden beak.

And how he encouraged them, when they grew brave enough to peep from the opening! Each in turn he taught to fly from branch to branch in the large wire enclosure, telling them tales of the trees hed lived in as a chick in his Island days. Teaching them the shapes and sounds of the dangerous things that had lived in that distant place, against the day they might encounter them, unlikely though that might be.

She knew her place, though, and hastened down the ladder to the curls of shavings piled deep and soft in the bottom of the box. A few carefully selected breast feathers cushioned the empty cup, made dutifully in the way she always had. She settled in, waiting to be summoned to the opening for her meal. Her beak opened to call him..and no sound came out. For there in the shavings beneath her, mounding against the soft curls of aspen, lay three creamy warm shapes shed never thought to feel again! Oh, how dear and smooth they were! She clucked softly to them, deep within her throat, happiness curling through her like the waves of the distant shores she remembered from her chick hood. She lifted herself carefully, and made her way swiftly up the ladder, calling loudly all the way.

Where WAS that old bird? Didnt he know that she had EGGS to hatch