Oona and I met on the edge of the meadow one late June afternoon. Swallows swooped low and fast, skimming over the new mowing. Dried hay, escaped from the baler, smelled sweet, along with daisies, purple vetch, asters. We watched Art Gingert climb the 14-foot ladder to the kestrel nest box and come down carrying a small soft sack. Inside were four quiet nestlings, brown, blue, with big doe eyes. They were almost fully feathered, but bits of down sprinkled their backs.

The American kestrel, our smallest falcon, and the only kestrel species in the Western Hemisphere, is endangered, which is why Art has been putting up nest boxes in our region for over 40 years.

Oona took two birds, I one, and we gently gripped the birds’ legs between our fingers. They pecked us sharply, but we held on until Art had banded them, reassuring us that the bands would continue to fit their little yellow legs even when they became adults.

Before he brought them back up, we climbed the ladder to look into the nest box, white inside. It smelled strongly of bird shit.

One of these mornings, they’ll take to the sky. But til that morning…  (Here, perhaps, the music too should rise, celebrating their brave and perilous lift offs.) Now, however, I look at the sleeve of my shirt, white with the sweet squirt from my nervous nestling, and can only hope for the best, wishing them all a bon voyage and good luck.

—Ella Clark