As I watered the garden the other day a juvenile robin attempted a landing between the raised beds. Clearly a beginner at this flying thing, it tripped on landing and rolled into the side of one of the beds. After collecting itself, it stood for a while very close to me.
“Little bird,” I said, “I’ve been right where you are. I can relate. Keep trying and it’ll get better.”
Since the American robin lives for only about two years, this little guy will grow out of his clumsiness quickly if he is to survive.
With an average life expectancy of about 80, we Americans are a different story. Only after many years of crash landings do we come into our coordination. We grow slowly and awkwardly.
I should know.
I grew up as the fourth child in a family of five clumsy boys, of which I was far and away the clumsiest. As the youngest of the four surviving siblings, I still rank near the bottom when it comes to coordination.
(By the way, mama robins can lay up to five eggs and produce up to three broods during their short lives. That’s 15 kids. I wonder if my little friend in the garden compares himself to his siblings on a clumsiness scale.)
I started out kind of like my robin friend, falling from the top of an apple tree at age 5 or 6, bouncing off branches as I plummeted head first toward a sharp rock that put a big, bloody divot in my forehead.
I should not have been climbing an apple tree in cowboy boots.
The blood gushed. My parents rushed me to the clinic, where a doctor supposedly cleaned out the wound and decided to close it with a butterfly bandage rather than stitches.
A few nights later my parents had a cocktail party on the porch. As the ice tinkled in their glasses, I distinctly remember playing near a swing in the yard when my head started to get very, very hot. Then it got red. Very red. Then it swelled grotesquely.
In the emergency room, a different doctor cut the wound open, scraped out some dirt, and sewed it back together. More than six decades later, the scar remains.
As does the one on my left palm, which some years after the incident at the apple tree I sliced with my new Swiss Army knife. I was not ready for a knife.
As does the one on my right knee from when, some years after the knife incident, I walked into the spinning chain of a chain saw I was carrying. I was not ready for a chainsaw.
Oddly, I can’t find evidence of a scar from when, a couple years prior to the chainsaw incident, I stood too close to Johnny Whipple, who had a golf iron in his hands, with which he swung hard at a golf ball, which he hit. On the backswing, he also hit my head, burying the iron in my forehead very near my right eye.
Lots of blood. Another doctor. Perhaps my eyebrow hides the scar.
Oh, did I mention that when I was really little for some reason someone had left a glass containing turpentine on my mother’s bedside table? It looked like water, I suppose. I sampled it. In the emergency room, they couldn’t find the stomach pump. After a frantic search, it turned up. I lived.
Some of the wounds I have endured only show up on an X-ray. The buckle fracture on my wrist from when, as a teenager, I for no reason fell backward while chatting with some girls during a softball game.
The tibia that snapped while skiing in heavy snow.
The thigh bone that shattered when I crashed a motorcycle at age 17. I wasn’t ready for a motorcycle. I had a lot of time to think about that during my three months in the hospital.
Then I became an adult and suddenly one day I shed my awkward, clumsy body and became somewhat coordinated. The blood generally stayed where it was supposed to.
I only go to the hospital now for things like kidney stones and hernia repairs and trips through banging MRI machines.
For now at least.
So shake it off, my little robin friend. Soon you’ll be singing from the treetops and swooping gracefully through the sky, and the little incident in the garden will be forgotten.
Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.