Stepping outside my studio for some sun last summer, I picked up a blackbird’s egg that had fallen from its nest, while the parent bird shrieked from a tree above. How to tell him I didn’t steal his egg? Looking from the glossy-brown orb in my palm to the agitated bird swooping overhead, I thought about that perfect egg—its pure potential—and the adult bird’s struggle to survive and nest.
Back inside my studio, I carefully placed the now cold egg on the white surface of my drawing table. There it became a sketch, rather than a fledgling. It then became part of my collection, and would later find itself in a painting. And the bird? He and his mate would try again, involved in their own passionate urge, taking grasses and sticks one by one to the crook of the tree to mend their nest. Watching this renewed ritual, I imagined the spiraling chains of genes responsible for those wings tipped richly red. I could begin to grasp that. But my spine tingled with the idea that some little sequence of molecules could instruct something so intricate as the act of nest building. And later, guide the distant flight south, navigating by stars and forces of the earth I’d never felt.
In late fall, weather cold and leaves fallen, I loosened the blackbird’s nest from the limb and placed it in my studio. The tangle of twigs no longer served to shelter eggs, but nestled among an array of sketches, print-outs of gene sequences, scraps of dried plants, field guides, pencils with worn-down erasers, rows of beetles in boxes, bits of turtle shell, and other natural fragments. This nest had lost its original purpose while gaining another amid my chaotically ordered collections.
Now a row of eggs glistens from the black ground of a painting on my easel, each detailed with umber calligraphic streaks under a smooth glaze, and each labeled with a tiny white number. One egg’s cracked open. Above it I’ve sculpted a wild nest in rough relief, branches splayed right and left—a chaos of sticks. Order, wildness, potential, reality, out there, in here—all in my thoughts as the living world passes through eye, mind and hand to make an image.