A letter to my grandchildren

by Mrs. Thelma H. Jenkins

Dear Emma and Charles,

I am going to tell you about something that I once saw when I was sitting by my favourite waterfall. It was very hot and the sun was shining down from a lovely blue sky, turning the clear mountain water into ripples of gold as it swirled over the flat rocks and then fell into the deep pool below in a *cascade of silver bubbles.

As I sat on a rock, fascinated by the sight and sound of the running water, I suddenly noticed a pair of slim grey birds, with beautiful yellow breasts, flitting about on the rocks and watching me with some uncertainty. Both birds had their beaks full of insects and that could mean only one thing! I knew that if I sat still enough I would discover the *destination of these grey wagtails. It was quite a few minutes before they plucked up enough courage to approach their hidden nest, but at last they disappeared into a corner of the rock-wall. When they had both discharged their *cargo and flown away to *forage for more, I carefully made my way over to the other side of the waterfall.

Beneath a clump of ferns and behind a delicate screen of pink *herb-robert and yellow butter-cups there was a neat little nest tucked into a *crevice in the rock. As I gently put my finger on the edge of the nest, immediately, as if released by a hidden spring, up popped three hopeful, gaping yellow beaks. Very gently I just touched the top of each *downy head, then backed away to resume my patient wait.

After two hours of watching those parent birds flying back and forth, back and forth, with never a moment's rest, I felt quite worn out. I wondered how they could keep it up, as presumably they did, from dawn until dusk (which, in midsummer, would be at least fifteen hours!).

Four days later, I came again to the waterfall and saw one of the parent birds *preening its feathers in the sun. "So they do stop sometimes," I thought. "Perhaps he is having a well-earned coffee-break!" He flew away and, after waiting some minutes for the birds to remain with food, I crossed the stream to peep into the nest. To my amazement it was empty! In my foolishness, I had rather hoped to see the *fledglings leave the nest - but those wise parent birds had encouraged them out of the nest, probably very early in the morning, watching over their first trial flights while there were no dangerous humans anywhere near to alarm or to interfere.

Where were they now? Probably they had been wisely taken up-stream where fewer humans were likely to *penetrate. I climbed over rocks and splashed through the water for about a quarter of a mile and, sure enough, there they were. First I saw only the parent birds but then, one after the other, I saw three smaller birds (without the long tail feathers) flitting from tree to tree and even bouncing up into the sky twenty feet above my head. As I made my way down-stream, one fledgling was sitting on a rock in the middle of the water and I said to him, "Little do you know that I have actually touched your feathery head!" I found myself thinking of some words I had read in my Bible only that morning:

"I know and am acquainted with all the birds of the mountains, and the wild animals of the field are Mine." Psalm 51 verse 11. (Those words are from the Amplified Version of the Bible.)

I found myself thinking how wise those bird-parents were. They had built their nest in a perfect situation, safely hidden from view, yet within reach of an endless supply of cool flowing water and the necessary insect food. They had tirelessly cared for their young when they were helpless; then, as soon as they could fend for themselves, they had removed them to a safe *environment where they could practise their new powers of flying and feeding. True, I saw a *kestrel hovering up the valley, but that was a natural danger and there were endless rocky crannies, with bracken and mountain-ash and silver-birch trees to provide safe cover.

All this happened a year or two ago. Can you remember, Emma, when I carried you across the waterfall and lifted you up so that you could have a peep, just for a second, into the wagtail's nest? Perhaps you were too young to remember doing this, but Mummy took a photo of us as we were both looking into the nest. I wish I could take you, Charles, to see the wagtails, but they don't nest there any more. They nested in the same place the next year (which Grandpa says is unusual) but I have seen some very noisy children bathing and splashing in the waterfall so I think the wagtails have decided to stay further up the stream, where I first saw the baby birds flying. This is the only place where I can be sure of seeing them now.

I may wander up there, presently, and see if they are flying up and down looking for insects. They are such graceful birds, and I love to see their long tails wagging quickly up and down, to balance themselves, whenever they land on a rock.

That's all for now, and this comes, with much love as always, from Grandma and Grandpa.

* The words marked with a star can be looked up in the dictionary if you are not sure of their meaning.

Copyright © Family Matters 1996