I confess. I’m one of THOSE people – the kind who, when moving into a new space, won’t feel settled until my things are fully unpacked.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m far from a neatnik (my fam will gladly attest); however, I’ve always been drawn to create simple personal habitats which elicit the sensation of haven or hideaway. A new office, a new home, a tent perched on the seashore have all been fair game this past year. Even when I was a scientist on an oceanographic research vessel years ago, my little cabin nook was artfully assembled so that at the end of long day of work, I would be able to sink into a nest.
You see, I love nests.
Growing up in New England, I spent untold hours in the woods during every season scanning for woven treasures. My sight traced tree trunks to branches high overhead, or followed roots and crevices deep into the ground. I clearly remember fashioning sticks, bark, mud and moss into countless comfy bowls, leaving them as offerings for critters who might need a place to bed down, hide out, or rest. It’s no surprise that one of my earliest memories is building a birdhouse with my dad.
Generations of nests
My 9-year old Forest Boy has been doing the same thing since he was 2-ish. That nest building thing, it’s woven tightly through both strands of his DNA. You see, Forest Boy’s Costa Rican great-grandmother is a masterful crafter of all-things-nest too. Recently, I sat with her.
Along with the birds, Abuela Isabel greeted that day’s rising sun over Costa Rica’s highest peak, Cerro Chrirripo. She had already been awake for hours at that point, of course – in her later years those dawn-kissed mornings blossomed out of custom rather than necessity.
However, more than 7 decades before, Abuela had 15 hungry mouths to feed and a farm to run. In the early days, she wore babies on her back and children on her hip as she picked coffee and hauled water up the hillside to her home. She scrubbed clothes by hand, chopped wood, ground corn, patted masa into tortillas and stewed enormous pots of beans on the fire. She cultivated her medicinal herb garden and recited the rosary with her brood in a circle. Every. Single. Day.
As life unfolded, Abuela’s children fledged from the nest but their own chickadees flocked to back hers, which was bound to have soup warming on the stove, an arepa on the griddle, sugar cane syrup in a jar, and a spoken blessing upon arrival and departure. Less than 5 feet tall, Abuela was a force of nature – her home’s magnetic pull was palpable – as evidenced by the constant ebb and flow of the family on the farm.
I will never forget my first pilgrimage to Abuela – when she looked into my eyes, my heart stilled in my chest.
I was faced with kindness matched with pure mettle, and she scanned for mine.
She must have found a thread in there, because she offered this stranger from a strange land a mug of farm-grown coffee ladled with extra cane sugar.
I sank into her space that weekend and witnessed how she fortified it with hard work, feathered it with faith, and adorned it with a hint of feisty. Seven hours from my home in Monteverde, I became like the others – drawn to her mountainside farm time and again, for close to 12 years. Troipcal storms? Earthquakes? No problema, this was the one place where all things felt held . . . and unshakable.
Three weeks ago I visited Abuela. This time it was different.
She was dying.
Having accompanied my young mother and a close friend through their home-hospice journeys, I did the one thing I knew how to do.
I made Abuela a nest.
We begin our lives in a nest, in the womb of our mother. Warm, protected, and nourished – this is the vital space where we develop until we are birthed into the world. It seems only natural that as our Elders make their transition from this world that they too are held in sacred space.
Surrounding her with pillows, I fashioned Abuela’s sanctuary to include a view of the flower garden and the towering Chirripo mountain in the distance. We crafted an altar with images of the Santa Maria, and lit candles to call Her in. Abuela’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren perched nearby, each waiting their turn to tend to her.
Settling in, I held Abuela’s hands and marveled at the 89 years etched into their landscape. I sang. She closed her eyes as hubs read from the book of Psalms with a sweet and faithful cadence. Each time, just when we thought she’d drifted to sleep, he’d stop reading… and she’d open one eye to catch his gaze. How could we help but smile? She was just like a tender babe in arms not wanting to be put down, checking on us.
Yes, Abuela, we are still here. Yes, Abuela, we will keep reading. We will read you home.
Days stretched into weeks. We knew that when her time was right, Abuela would fly. In the darkness of the new moon, three weeks shy of completing her 90th loop around the sun, she did just that.
If I know anything at all, it is this: We all need nest-time during the course of our lives – not just at the beginning or at the end.
Honoring our transitions
When it’s time to make our great transitions in life, we may be instinctively drawn to find a sanctuary to settle into – a soft, soulful space upon which to lay our bones and get really quiet. A carving out of explicit time to receive nourishment – physically, emotionally, spiritually – so that we are able fledge with clarity and direction.
As adults, how many times have we brushed our yearning for nest-time aside? And, what have been the pivotal moments when we’ve said Yes to this urge for retreat we couldn’t explain?
For me, even unconsciously, nest-time has included inspired travel or short solo sojourns; it’s also manifested as being called to spend more time with a close soul-friend or gifting myself sweet doses of massage, yoga or home-alone time. Nest time has played out differently during the different seasons of my life.
I admit, it has taken me a long time to recognize and respect the Call of the Nest. It’s a practice.
In hindsight, my own pattern emerges: Prior to consciously embarking upon a Big Life Change – a new career or change of relationship; a move across the country; the approaching birth of my son; even the launching of this website – I craved haven. A quiet harbor in which to moor, drop in, and open deeply to discernment.
At other times, I’ve craved retreat after emerging from a big transition, often one I had not chosen – such as my mother’s death or my year-long journey through post-partum depression. In those moments, nest-time served me well as I unfurled back into the light– via the sculpting of a specific rest stop in which to replenish, recalibrate and reorient before flying forth.
I’ve become more practiced at taking note when the instinct for nest-time surfaces in my life.
I witness it as wisdom rising from my bones, a whisper that something inside needs explicit incubation, to be held in sacred space prior to unfolding.
As my internal homing mechanism becomes more fine-tuned, I am more likely to heed when I sense the Call of the Nest. I trust deeply in the power of its ancient medicine, and therefore make way. Hewing out time, I touch down in one place and listen in. Sometimes for an hour. Or a day. Or more.
Here, I rest.
Here, I receive.
Here, I revive.
And each time I emerge, a more luminous me takes flight.