One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’
From Amoretti LXXV by Edmund Spenser
Mel wasn’t sure how Anne had extracted her binoculars so quickly from her pack, but
she felt the sudden weight of them in her hand. Mel adjusted the focus and sure enough, there was the red leg band. That was Penelope alright. As always, the grey feathers on the crown of her head were slightly ruffled. She was busy examining a bread crumb that had fallen and lodged in a sidewalk crack. Without a word, Mel bolted for the door of the café, drawing stares from the other patrons.
“What are we looking at?” Anne whisper-shouted. “Is it a rare species?”
Penelope burst into the air and Mel took off after her, ignoring odd looks from passersby
as she sprinted down the street.
“Where are we going?” Anne cried.
Penelope was gone. How had she disappeared so quickly?
“I saw a plover...with a red...leg band...” Mel panted.
“A plover?” Anne frowned. “You mean like the one over there?”
She pointed across the street to a car park behind a small convenience store, where
Penelope was running across the gravel as quick as her wee legs could carry her. Soon, Mel spotted the bird’s target. On the edge of the car park, underneath a potted yew tree, huddled another plover. The two birds quickly switched places, but not before Mel spotted the clutch of eggs underneath them. They’d built their home on the correct side of the curb stop, but close enough that the hood of any car that parked in that spot would almost overhang their nest. She inhaled sharply.
“What is it?” hissed Anne.
“Penelope’s alive, and she’s got a mate, a nest, and three little eggs!” Mel said. “And
she’s chosen the stupidest spot in South Shields to raise a family.”
Right. She hadn’t told Anne about Penelope yet.
“Penelope’s the bird across the street there. She kind of stands out from the other
plovers. I feel like we have a connection. I used to talk to her sometimes, but I haven’t seen her in a while.”
She felt stupid saying it out loud, but Anne didn’t seem to be judging.
“I guess you know why you haven’t seen her around anymore.”
“Aye, she’s been busy. But Anne, is it even possible for her to raise chicks in a parking
Anne frowned. “Possible, yes, but...well, chick mortality is already high to begin with...”
Mel’s heart sank. Penelope had only just started her family, and already it was doomed.
“Is there anything we can do?” she asked.
Anne shrugged. “I think we’ll just have to let nature run its course. If the nest fails, the
adults can still start a new one. And if the chicks survive, well, then you’ve learned something new about nest mortality. You can think of it as your own experiment, an extension of my dad’s research.”
“Penelope’s chicks aren’t an experiment,” Mel spat, a little more sharply than she meant
to. “This is important to me. Maybe we can ask the owner if she’s willing to block off the parking spot her nest is next to.”
“I suppose it couldn’t hurt. I’ll come with you, but you’ll have to do the asking. I don’t think
the owner will be too keen on the idea, so it’ll be better coming from a local girl.”
“I’ve never met the owner. I’ve never even been inside this store. I could be from Consett
for all they know.”
“Come on, Mel, don’t be daft. I meant that you’re a white girl with a northern accent. I don’t
exactly blend in here.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Mel said, flushing. She’d spoken thoughtlessly, and she regretted it.
A bell jingled cheerfully as Mel pushed the shop door open, and the girls were greeted
by a human-sized cardboard cutout of a smiling cartoon banana. “We ordered too many
bananas! Big sale ahead!” the advertisement read. Mel gave a wave to Halima Bulmer’s mother, who had happened to stop in for a few groceries, and walked past a shelf stacked with bananas to the check-out counter.
The woman behind the counter was old and thin with pale, fragile-looking skin and grey
hair cut just below her chin. She watched curiously as Mel approached.
“Excuse me, are you the store owner?” Mel asked.
“Aye, that’s me.”
“Well, I was wondering...do you know...I...”
Why did talking to people make her so nervous? Why couldn’t she just make a simple
request without her heart pounding in her chest? She looked over at Anne, who gave her a nod.
Mel took a deep breath. “Are you aware of the plover nest in your parking lot?”
“Aye, the wee black and white birds? I’ve seen them. Dreadful place to make a home.
I’m surprised they haven’t been stepped on yet.”
“Well I was wondering...” Mel twisted her hands anxiously. “Do you think you could block
off the parking spot next to the nest? That way the chicks wouldn’t be disturbed as much, and there’s less chance of someone stepping on them.”
The store owner rested her chin thoughtfully in her hands. “I do love the birds...But I
need as many parking spaces as possible for my customers. It’s a thoughtful request, but it’s just so expensive on my part.”
“Oh,” said Mel, face falling. What had she expected? It was an expensive proposition.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear. This sounds like something the bird club could fund.
I’ve got a group of friends who would be delighted to see these young people getting involved in birding,” said Mrs. Bulmer.
She had come up from the back of the store with a bag of nuts and a bunch of bananas.
She wore a pale pink hijab and an expression of excitement. Mrs. Bulmer, Mel recalled with delight, was the president of the local women’s birding club.
The store owner tilted her head to one side, thinking. “That’s a wonderful offer. How long
will these birds be in the nest?”
“They incubate the eggs for three and a half weeks or so, and then the young can
usually fly on their own 24 days after they hatch. So I would guess a little more than a month before the chicks are alright on their own. The birding club could reimburse you to keep the parking space unoccupied until then.”
“They grow up faster than I thought!” said the store owner. “And like I said, I do love the
birds. Aye, I accept your proposal. I’ll put up a barrier straightaway.”
Mel and Anne ended up leaving the store with six bunches of slightly overripe bananas
between the two of them–after the huge favor the store owner had done for them, taking a few bananas off her hands was the least they could do. They thanked Mrs. Bulmer wholeheartedly, and she invited them to come birding with the women’s club and keep her posted on how the nest was faring. Penelope, the star of the show, was sitting contentedly on her nest when the three birdwatchers exited the store.
“Motherhood becomes her,” Mrs. Bulmer declared, a small smile on her lips.
Mel couldn’t help but agree. Happy to see her bird friend safe, she turned and followed
Anne back toward the research office.
Now, what was she going to do with this many bananas?
About the author: Ella Shively is a recent graduate of Northland College. She is now working as a water resource specialist at the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation in Ashland, Wisconsin, USA. You can find her online at https://www.instagram.com/shivelywrites/.
About this chapter's featured poet: Edmund Spenser (1552/1553 – 13 January 1599) is recognized as one of the premier craftsmen of nascent Modern English verse and is often considered one of the greatest poets in the English language. Amoretti is a sonnet cycle. The cycle describes the poet's courtship and eventual marriage to Elizabeth Boyle.