Field Sketch for Meadow Lark
(PLATE XXXVIII.) from Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, text by Howard Jones and illustrations by Virginia Jones, 1879-1886
In a field stained April green,
her son pointed at the swirl of grass
that signaled the nest. Virginia
glimpsed the eggs glistening
like wet stones. Abandoned,
he said, which took the sting
out of the mother’s cries.
He unstitched the green grass from brown
to expose the nest’s dome—
a frame for tiny beaks to bloom like secrets,
a window opening
into first, staggering flight.
Study for Long-Billed Marsh Wren
Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, text by Howard Jones and illustrations by Virginia Jones, 1879-1886
Before Virginia finds
the crook and bend
of marsh grass,
she sketches the mass
of yarn and thread
that squats like a tumor
at the bottom of her sewing kit.
A mystery how the skeins
into snarls, but here
the crimson grosgrain
from Genevieve’s best dress
with the indigo wool
from her favorite gloves,
as if weaving a spell
for a daughter who loved
to unpuzzle the tangles
of remnants, whether
silk or weed stem,
velvet or vine.
Long-Billed Marsh Wren (Plate XLVI.)
Every ornithologist has noted the fact that but few nests of the whole number found contain eggs, and many guesses have been made to account for the construction of so many useless houses.
– Howard Jones, Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, illustrations by Virginia Jones, 1879-1886
the intricate ribbons of grasses
lashed to cattails,
the feathers and plant down
refining the interior,
not to think
of the other nests—
hidden like typhoid in marshes,
Climbing for Nests
with a line from The Naturalist’s Manual: Containing Descriptions of the Nests and Eggs of North American Birds, Oliver Davie, 1882.
You’ll need a pistol, for a bird’s life should count
as nothing against your doubt. For the tallest trees:
a rope to tie your waist. Climbing irons
to scale the trunks. A net, a ladder. A saw.
Aspire to stealth, but don’t despair at the din
of leaves, the snap of twigs beneath your feet.
Spared or shot as specimen, the bird
won’t betray the inelegance of your climb.
Consider yourself lucky to evoke,
if not the bird’s indifference to the earth’s pull,
then the native ease of apes in upper limbs—
ancestors who bend and weave branches into nests.
From behind a scrim of leaves, they peer up
at endless branching light to scratch and yawn.
Learn more about Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio and view illustrations from the book.
Header image: Plate XXXVIII by Virginia Jones, from Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, text by Howard Jones and illustrations by Virginia Jones, 1879-1886; courtesy Smithsonian Libraries.