I let $40 worth of hanging ferns die this spring. On purpose.
They were those gorgeous kind, floofy and floppy, gigantic and summery. I loved them. I get two of them every year and hang them on our front porch, watering them every other day or so. They last all summer and deep into the fall, adding this great splash of deep green to the front of our house.
But this year, within a day or two of hanging them, both had become home to a big, strong, sweet nest of bird eggs. The nests were built down in the deepest part of the fern, beneath the complicated criss-crosses of the stalky part of the plant. The first time I went to water the plants—both of them!—I was started backwards when a mama bird came whooshing out, she herself shocked and startled. I peeked in, and there were four little eggs lying in wait. In each fern.
So I stopped watering. I just left the ferns alone, only peeking in two times to check on them. The first time, the eggs had just hatched a grayish brown pile of scrawny babies, their mouths opening and closing in a silent cry. The second time, they were plump and feathery, just a few days from learning to fly.
And the ferns? They were decidedly dead.
My kids noticed this the other day. “Why do those plants look so bad?” my son asked.
I told them the story about the birds and how I’d decided it was worth replacing the ferns in order to give the birds a good home. “When birds build a nest for their eggs, they work really, really hard to make it strong and safe,” I explained. “It takes them days. It's hard work. And then they lay their eggs, and then spend weeks sitting there keeping the eggs warm. Then the eggs hatch, and the birds hustle around—for weeks, again— getting food for the baby birds until they’re big enough to figure out the learn-to-fly thing,” I said. “I couldn’t bear to be the reason that the whole process got stalled. That the grown birds worked that hard, or that the babies didn’t get to grow into big birds…”
My kids were quiet, thinking.
My husband chimed in, clear and succinct. “Here’s the thing. Everything on this earth deserves a chance, at least. A fighting chance.”
“What’s a fighting chance?”
“It means that all of us should be safe and protected by someone or something until we are big and strong enough to fight for survival on their own,” he said.
He’d explained it better than I had. Yes: everything deserves a fighting chance. And to those baby birds, their fighting chance was a place to be born, to grow, and to get the strength to fly away on their own. A few ferns had to die a little earlier than expected, but the gift they gave—the gift of home, the gift of a fighting chance—was well worth it.