“But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be if it isn’t a prayer?” Mary Oliver (from “I Happened To Be Standing”)
One day in late 2017, I sat writing. On this morning I rode a fretful moment, the worry du jour being my first novel, Wren, for which I wasn’t finding a publisher. The challenge of publishing a first novel as an unknown novelist with no platform was weighing on me that day. Should I check in with that agent again; should I submit the novel for first-fiction contests; should I…, should I…? We all know this grip of worry, whether or not we work in the creative arts: the fear we are failing at something, missing something we should be doing, watching something we care about (whether kids or relationships or projects) slip from our [illusory] grip of control.
But as I looked up from my laptop—glancing out at vine maples in late-summer light, a bird hopped onto my window screen. Not on the sill, mind you, or on the table next to the window—but on the screen itself. Which is odd. Moreover, the kind of bird oddly hopping on my screen that morning was a wren. Again, the title of my book is Wren, the name of the book’s protagonist and a reference to the novel’s bird imagery. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen birds hopping around on window screens. They might hop near a window. But on the screen?
The incident required a few beats of reflection. But after giving it a moment, I found myself smiling. I took the wren encounter as more than a coincidence, interpreting it to mean: Don’t worry—stop trying so hard—trust. Remember how all I truly need is provided. Shortly thereafter, I paused the publisher search and focused on building readership through my blog. I would know—eventually—when time was right to recommence the agent and publisher search. I let go.
Then, over the course of the next year, wren incidents piled up.
The first time I was soaking in my hot tub in the woods outside my back door. It was now 2018. On one end of the brick pad where the tub sits is a stack of firewood, and between the wood and the tub, a driftwood bench. As I soaked, I watched a wren hop along the ground, inching closer and closer to the hot tub. She then hopped onto the wood pile four feet from where I soaked; then onto the end of the bench. For a few moments, we watched each other from that intimate distance.
Two weeks later, again during my ritual soak, I observed a wren fly from a nearby tree into the rafters over my back door. She had built a nest in the eaves above the door to my writing space. I’d lived in the house eleven years and to my knowledge, never had a wren in my eaves.
Then on a subsequent day, I sat eating on my front porch, on the opposite side of the house. When weather’s fair, it is my favorite place to dine: perched on the porch steps gazing into the tangle of woods, tuned to birdsong. As I sat eating that day, a wren flew into the paperback maple a few feet from me. From this perch, she flew into the eaves just over my head. This wren had built a nest over my favorite eating spot on the front of the house, just as a wren had built a nest in the eaves on the back.
Later that summer, on a pleasant day when my door stood open, a wren flew inside. At first, I worried. In the past, having birds inside presented problems. They struggled to find their way out, all the while flying into windows and endangered by my two cats. But on this day, the bird was a wren. She simply flew in, flew around my house for a minute or two, then peacefully flew back to the front door and out—without incident.
Several times in the past year I’ve spotted wrens hopping on the pergola along my front window, bouncing amidst the wisteria vines, a few feet from where I sat on the other side of the glass. And several times they’ve come near me while I was outdoors. I came to expect these wren encounters; they were so frequent. Most times I would remember not to worry. The wrens lent me peace about my writing life, but also much more.
In mid-2018, a series of events precipitated my decision to have Wren produced as an audiobook (and a Kindle edition), and thus to share the novel with readers even as I awaited the some-day publication of the book in print (it is currently not a print publication). The audiobook idea actually came via a portentous dream. And in an equally unexpected manner, a voice actor, professional editing, and funds happened my way. The audio production was born. It more or less came to me—every piece of it.
Because I’ve had so many encounters with wrens, I was not surprised when, on the day the audiobook was completed and before I’d heard the news, I had another encounter. It was morning and I opened my front door to find a wren perched on a sculpture on my tiny front deck, just five feet from me. She hopped from the sculpture onto a basket of firewood, drawing even closer. “There you are; of course you are,” I whispered out loud. As she flew away, I walked back into the house, grinning. Later that day, I learned the audiobook was completed.
Dozens of bird species traverse the woods where I live. The experiences I’ve narrated could have involved any number of small-bird species. Yet each and every time, they were with wrens. Over the months of having the experiences, I cared for two injured birds, but in neither case were they wrens (one a Swainson’s trush, the other a band-tailed pigeon). The wrens I’ve encountered have always been determined and well and laden with meaning, in my view.
What is that meaning? I try not to hew too closely, lest I scare it away. I let the meaning hover obscurely and undefined on the edges of my understanding. I don’t need to know exactly what the encounters represent, I simply need to acknowledge them and acknowledge that they mean something. They have a mounting power. They do quell worry, I know. They empower me to let go of trying to manipulate outcomes with regard to the story I’ve created, and instead to maintain openness, to act as the Spirit leads even while letting go. One way or another, the novel Wren will fly where she’s intended to fly. She will be well. What could she be, this Wren, if not a prayer?
Now available on Audible!