Editor’s note: I have three young children. To help pass time while self-isolating we have hung several bird feeders around our yard and the kids are responsible for keeping the feeders filled. The kids like to sift through our Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards and when they spot a bird, they prop its card on our windowsill, next to their grandpa’s binoculars. More than once I’ve thought about this 1962 column from “Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years” while watching my kids watch our backyard birds. I think about my own charmed circles and whether I’m living to full capacity or simply continuing to exist, particularly in my artists pursuits, particularly right now. Familiarity can be a great comfort, but with a small wingspan. I know myself and the importance of fledging, even when, especially when, it’s difficult. As Hayward writes, “The biggest, best resource is in ourselves.”
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
During the early summer months my garden became a battleground. For at least the past 20 years blackbirds had nested in the thorn hedge, but this year a pair of thrushes coveted the spot, and the battle was on. My sympathies, I may say, were entirely with the blackbirds who had probably been born in that hedge and were a friendly, trusting and beautiful young couple. Young Bossy, the male, was a fine, imperious fellow, his orange beak and the orange orbits of his eyes vivid flashes of colour against the glossy black of his plumage. Mabel, as we called his young bride, a sleek, lovely creature, would follow one round the border as tame as any robin. Meet her unexpectedly and she would show no fear but simply stop short with a polite “after you” inclination of the head. It always made me feel I had been waved on by a duchess.
They were building their first nest when calamity came. There were fights, skirmishes, every kind of hostile manoeuvrings as day after day Bossy fought to defend his home and territory. He became more and more battered in the process and in the end the enemy’s persistence wore him down.
But not without a final flash of his old spirit. After a particularly savage fight, he was sitting on top of the fence by the thorn hedge, a bundle of sheer exhaustion, barely able to utter an occasional croak of defiance, when the female thrush sidled up to him with an unmistakable air of “You’ve had it chum.”
The weary head turned like lightning and he gave her a vicious peck. With a shriek of rage the lady flew down into the flower border and let out a shrill stream of all the bad language she knew. Making a prodigious effort, Bossy stood up, flicked his tail with a faint return of his old, imperious manner and croaked out a few bars of song, repeating them several times in hoarse but manifest glee, before subsiding once more into his misery. But that had done him a power of good.
Nevertheless, the happy days were over. Neither side won decisively. Nests were begun and abandoned as the fortunes of war swayed. In the end the thorn hedge became deserted and the garden a kind of “no man’s land” into which neither party could enter without provoking a hostile reaction.
It seems that even creatures with wings must have their one small plot of earth, regardless of their hardier brethren who go winging their ways over the wide spaces of the world when the call comes to them. It makes up their pattern of life and they will fight to preserve it as men fight, wanting the known thing, the familiar thing, leaving the wide spaces of earth and air to those others. It is the way routine closes in on us, circumstances enmesh us, and who can say that for most men, too, it does not make a charmed circle? It can have very narrow confines, it can be deadly and deadening; only it need not. There can be wings in it, too, the wings of the mind, and men, who are creatures of conscious thought and endeavour, betray themselves if they do not learn to fledge them.
Because the issues are stupendous, they make all the difference between living to full capacity and simply continuing to exist. Living to full capacity means working where our true abilities lie and working to develop and extend them. The man of his hands works all the better for bringing his mind to it: the first-class craftsman’s work is intelligent work in which skill is enhanced and developed by the living interest he brings to it. The best work may become instinctive and intuitive through years of experience: it never becomes dull. Truly creative work never is dull. It calls to some deep thing in us, answers to some need of our nature. Brings new growth, new harmony into our lives.
Nowadays, in spite of all the resources that are becoming so readily available to the ordinary man, life can be very empty. Whatever our material resources, it is still we ourselves who have to make our lives and we can only do this by using our own creative energies. The biggest, best resource is in ourselves. When we are working with all the skill it is in us to give, we are ploughing a furrow that will enfold living seed and bring good work to fruition. We are preparing a harvest for our later years that will have in it the good things we have found by the way, the living interests that have nourished us, the challenges accepted, the defeats surmounted and turned into triumphs. And if these things lead to more good work, leisured good work full of enjoyment, they will round out and complete that maturity of personality which enables a man to stand sturdily on his own feet and lead his own life still.
— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1962