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  • Even though they are often indecipherable to non-Americans, there are many English expressions or sayings that we unconsciously use to signify excitement about a potential positive turn of events. For example:

    • It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
    • Hey, this is going be a piece of cake!

    To this list I’d like to add an expression that has taken on a little different meaning for me recently – a bird’s nest on the ground. This expression is cheerfully chattered when someone realizes that a golden opportunity (whoops, there’s another one) has just presented itself.

    For example, let’s say that two good old boys are out hunting and they come upon an old shack whose shabby exterior has a distinct look of nefarious activity. They walk in and see a large table stacked high with cash. One of these rustic wordsmiths could exclaim, “Holy guacamole bubba, we’ve done found us a bird’s nest on the ground!” This ebullience continues until they realize that the structure is in fact a meth lab owned by a very mean man who holds a grudge.

    No doubt, this expression became a part of the vernacular when some prehistoric observer noticed that a nest had fallen from the tree, making its contents readily available to the creatures that wanted to eat the previously out of reach eggs. He elbow-nudged his cave-buddy and said, “Birds nest…on ground. Good!”

    There is, however, a sad aspect to this upbeat expression.

    What about the bird whose nest is now on the ground? One must assume that this is not a positive turn of events for him.

    It’s not like the birds didn’t work hard at building it. A bird’s nest is an amazingly complicated engineering feat and it takes hundreds of trips by the builders, carrying twigs and pieces of human detritus, to complete the finished nest.

    The fact that evolution has enabled birds to know how to design and build this incredibly complicated structure and then pass this knowledge on to the next generation is nothing short of stunning. This knowledge and skill also contradicts the negative connotation of the old expression; “bird brain,” which is often used to describe those with limited intelligence. (See rustic wordsmiths above.)

    After a recent storm, I came upon a bird’s nest on the ground. The wind had blown this little structure down onto the ferns and the family whose home it had been was forced to look for new digs or, more likely, build a new one.

    I fervently hope that the winged architects who are involved in this disaster see this as a golden opportunity to use the skills that nature has endowed them with. I also hope that the birds involved in this re-building process have an avian expression that is equivalent to: “Don’t worry about a thing. This is going to be a piece of cake!”

    Photo by A. Young 2012
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