May 6, 2014

My Favorite Mother’s Day Gifts: Life, Hope, and Bluebirds

Eastern bluebird (wikipedia)
Eastern bluebird (wikipedia)
Eastern bluebird (wikipedia)

I watched the twin nesting boxes for days in April. Cold wind blasted rain against the house windows. Then it snowed. Bluebirds were late. Would they ever come?

Years ago, my husband Vic rebuilt a remnant of an old barnyard fence near the house. While I helped clear the brush, he hammered new posts in the ground. I held the posts steady as he nailed a bluebird nesting box at each end of the railing. In the house, Vic set up the telescope we bought to watch the phases of Venus and the moons of Jupiter. He focused it on the door of the closest nesting box. We waited, but not for long. Cardinals, sparrows, and finches perched on the railing. Bluebirds and tree swallows arrived in a few days and argued over the houses before settling in.

We loved the swallow’s graceful swoops and soaring, but bluebirds grabbed our imagination. Every spring we focused the telescope on the house they chose.

Nesting boxes and railing perch

“Look, V, she’s taking sticks into the box,” I called.

“He’s feeding her worms” Vic said stepping back from the telescope so I could have a turn. “Smart guy.”

“Hey, V, the bluebirds are back,” I yelled the spring after Vic’s stem cell transplant. Bluebirds mattered more than ever then. They brought faith when we lost courage.

“Hope is the thing with feathers/ that perches in the soul…” Emily Dickinson wrote. Or did hope come from childhood memories of “Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly?”

DSC05008Sometimes we opened the door of the box when the parents were out and counted the pale blue eggs or admired the naked nestlings. We rejoiced over bright blue flashing feathers as the male brought worms and insects to his mate and their brood. We watched the parents nurture, guard, and mother. We were reassured.

Some years predators ate the baby birds. After the parents abandoned a raided nest, I cleaned the box, set up barriers for ants and snakes, and closed the door. In days, bluebirds moved back in and laid a new clutch of eggs. They did not give up.

In May 2008, I looked through the telescope to check the bluebirds before driving Vic to the hospital. As I paused, I exhaled my prayer to Divine Mother, the Life Giver, the Protector, the Feminine Face of God.

DSC05009Then I inhaled slowly and bowed my head. “Thy will be done.” Mother Nature gives and takes life. I was not in charge.

This morning, I watched the bluebird boy perch on the roof of the nesting box. I focused my camera as the female swooped in, fluttered her way into the box, and turned to look around. Later she brought sticks to build a nest.

The bluebirds plan to try again this year. So will I.


What brings you hope in the spring? Flowers, birds, warm temperatures? If you love birds, check out the Cornell Labratory of Ornithology live bird cameras. For other posts about my land, see Flowers, Butterflies, and Bees on my Finger Lakes Land or Healed by Nature, Inspired by Love.


  1. May 6, 2020 at 11:11 am

    susan scott


    as meaningful 6 years ago as it is now Elaine, thank you. May hope for the right thing always remain strong and alive in our hearts and also that we’re encouraged by the bluebirds’ demonstration of hope and courage.

    1. May 8, 2020 at 12:26 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Susan. I have two bluebird couples outside my windows this year and the telescope is set up to spy. One box has 4 eggs and the other has 5–and as usual there are no guarantees.

  2. May 24, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Ann Napoletan


    What a perfect metaphor for life. The human spirit is strong; we just keep trying, don’t we?

    Beautiful, Elaine.


    1. May 25, 2014 at 8:03 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yesterday I had to do a little maintenance at the base of the support post to keep ants out of the nest. The mama bird flew out because I was too close, so I took the opportunity to peek inside. There are four little blue eggs in that bluebird next. Yes, life. Thank you for your strong spirit. I look forward to sharing your new ideas. I’m trying to figure out if I should wait until Tuesday since there is so little traffic on social media this weekend.
      Grateful for your commitment, Elaine

  3. May 19, 2014 at 6:27 am

    Patti Hall


    Beautiful post, as usual. And I always enjoy reading the comments and your replies. I have my little Elaine ritual now. When I see a new post in my email or FB, I open it in a new tab for a quiet moment. I don’t like to rush when I am here at your place. It is almost 3:30 in the morn and I was fretting over not seeing my grandson for so many months. I came here and was soothed by the whole tone. Maybe I can sleep now and dream of bluebirds…
    Warm hugs,

    1. May 19, 2014 at 8:41 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      How reassuring your comment is, Patti. Thanks for telling me how my posts strike you. I’m sorry you’re fretting. I had little sleep the night before last fretting about what doesn’t matter. Then I realized yesterday morning it was my wedding anniversary (and the beginning point of a few traumatic weeks in 2008 ending with Vic’s death). Seeing your grandson does matter. I hope you work that out for your sake and his. Oh no. Another road trip.
      With love,

  4. May 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Robin Botie


    It’s beautiful Elaine. I’m wishing you a wonderful Mothers’ Day. Maybe with some bluebirds frolicking about. Here – I believe the fox and coyotes have scared away the birds as well as the bunnies.

    1. May 10, 2014 at 8:18 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Birds need the right nesting sites. I have rows of spruce trees between the road and the fields where they love to nest. I have 5 bluebird boxes for cavity nesters. I’m glad to have one family of bluebirds in the box that’s easiest to see amd easiest to open. Yesterday I peeked when the couple was out and found a beautifully constructed nest. Got a photo and closed the box quickly. I expect there will be bluebird eggs for Mother’s Day. I hope you providing celebrations for yourself. I wonder what culinary delights Robin will enjoy on Mother’s Day.

  5. May 9, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Kathleen M. Rodgers


    Your writing always pulls me straight into the moment. Just the other day I was thinking about cardinals and bluejays and I got to thinking, what happens to the other half of a bird couple when one of the mates dies?

    Does the lone male or female find another mate? Or do the “wing it” alone?

    Would love to know. Guess I should research this.

    1. May 9, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Good questions, Kathleen. I’m quite sure, as it is with humans, birds look for another mate. There’s also lots of cheating in the bird community (discovered by DNA testing of eggs). Coincidentally, I’m writing about this topic for next week.

      How is your mate? Hope he’s recovering well, but it takes a while after a traumatic surgery. Remember to take care of the caregiver.

  6. May 8, 2014 at 7:49 pm



    Beautiful post, Elaine. After visiting Harold’s mother Jean and daughter Danielle with her new baby boy in Florida this Spring, as I was driving away, I saw Harold’s favorite bird – a red-tailed hawk – flying low overhead. “Well, hello, Honey!” I said, “Your new grandson is lovely, but you surely know that already.” Yes, “Hope is the thing with feathers/ that perches in the soul…” Indeed! May the Blue Bird of Happiness visit you many times over this year and beyond. Hugs, Jenna

    1. May 9, 2014 at 9:58 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Hawks are another favorite for me. They hunt bluebirds, so I don’t love that part. We have a few white red-tailed hawks (a pale subgroup here with a white underbelly). They look completely white in flight. Vic and I watched two white hawks flying together in the field after one of his first chemo treatments. It looked like a mating dance, except it was autumn. They danced and did spinning duets we had never seen before. It felt like a sign from on high, but a sign of what? We were thrilled but knew it could be a death dance as well as a life dance.

      Thanks for reading this and telling your story. I wonder what they see or know of our life on earth. I don’t feel Vic around in an outer way, although he’s still a major dream character with frequent messages and balancing perspectives. Sending love, Elaine

  7. May 7, 2014 at 12:16 pm



    This blog is such a poem. As always your connection to the seasons and nature is expressed with subtlety and sensitivity.
    So glad the bluebirds are back and nesting. You and Vic have been their protectors/witnesses. Guardian angels are all around us, methinks. Happy Mother’s Day!

    1. May 7, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Kirsten, you always make me feel competent. I still haven’t planted one seed in the garden. I’ve had a garden for 40 years here, but it’s a cold spring and I’m not feeling it. We’ll see what happens next. It’s Ithaca, so next week we’ll complain about heat and humidity.
      Happy Mother’s Day to you, too.

  8. May 7, 2014 at 12:04 am

    Debby Gies


    Beautiful prose Elaine. Hope springs eternal. Lovely you are starting your spring. 🙂


    1. May 7, 2014 at 7:38 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I agree, Debby. I watch bluebirds this morning and tap into hope. I hope spring is happening in your area, too. It took a long time this year.
      Warmly, Elaine

  9. May 6, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Shirley Hershey Showalter


    You had me with that lovely picture of the bluebird and the dialogue with its bittersweet meaning under the surface.

    I find hope in my grandchildren, in my church with its message that love wins in the end, and through reading stories of people like you who have prevailed over suffering and loss.


    1. May 6, 2014 at 8:48 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Bluebirds show up quite often in my book. I sometimes think I’ve written enough about bluebirds, but when I got those two photos after writing about bluebirds in a writing class last week, I couldn’t resist.

      Love prevails. I’m drawn to the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Pema Chodron, and any teacher of any tradition who teaches the power of love.

      I ordered your book ‘Blush’ today. It looks wonderful.
      Thanks for commenting.

  10. May 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Patt Wisse


    Your pictures of the bluebirds are so gorgeous! They strike a chord in my heart

    1. May 6, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Hi Patt. So nice to hear from you. I got a little report about your life when I was in Cambridge last week. A new nestling coming to your tribe soon or perhaps already there.

      I love watching bluebirds do their household chores through the binoculars or telescope (rather than doing my own chores). Sending warm greetings to you and your family.

  11. May 6, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Lynne Taetzsch


    This is a beautiful post, Elaine–full of hope as well as sadness. Life comes and it goes.

    Love the photos of the bluebirds as well. I will look for them, but in my backyard the brightest bird is always the cardinal.

    For me, being able to walk outdoors without heavy clothing is the gift of spring. I had one today.

    1. May 6, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Me, too, Lynne. Walking without a coat is heaven. Bluebirds come around if they have the right nesting environment. I didn’t see them until we put up nesting boxes, although I’m sure they were somewhere in woodpecker holes at the edge of the woods.

  12. May 6, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Mary Friedel-Hunt


    Oh, Elaine, this is just lovely and so touching as are all your writings. I see often how certain memories bring back not only one moment but an entire string of moments as the bluebirds follow your times with Vic. This is just lovely. Thank you for sharing it. And yes, you and I and others shall try again today…and tomorrow.

    1. May 6, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Mary, your responses always move me. I’m sure you have similar memory threads–places you hiked, restaurants you shared, and other experiences forever tied to your marriage. I try not to fight the sadness of these memories since so much love and happiness mixes with the grief. We are strivers, so trying is natural to us, just as it is with bluebirds.
      Sending love and nesting birds to the north country.

  13. May 6, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Marian Beaman


    Lovely post with reminiscence connected to spring, a time of rebirth. I like how you use dialogue so effectively and include one of my favorite Dickinson quotes-perfect!

    I tweeted this just now.

    1. May 6, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Marian. I used the first Dickinson stanza of this poem in my book. A wonderful poem, especially this time of year. Thanks for tweeting. Sounds like a birdy word to me.

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