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The Coots' Nest

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

I wrote this in the Spring of 2012 and I can still feel the impact of the experience now. I thought I’d share it as I continue researching death, dying and grieving for my Matter of Life and Death workshops.

The nest was eye-catching. Balanced on the rudder of a moored canal boat, twigs were woven together with rubbish - strips of blue, green and red plastic. A waterbird recycling project.

Mummy and Daddy Coot - taking turns to sit on their five eggs - quickly became a canal-side sensation, with the birds growing accustomed to amateur photographers and commentators discussing the nest, its construction and the commitment of mother and father Coot to their eggs. Onlookers eagerly awaited the sight of the baby coots.

In London, where etiquette discourages eye contact, the coots drew us together for a while. We gathered on the towpath to photograph the birds, their colourful nest and their eggs, to allow ourselves to be captured for a while by nature in the midst of a busy city.

The prosaic became poetic, as we waited excitedly for an anticipated new life - beauty emerging from a pile of rubbish. How those little Coots and their five little chicks brightened the last few weeks of a dull, rain-sodden Spring.

But today the nest is gone. I cover my mouth in horror. My breath becomes shallow and rapid. The adult coots are stamping on freshly-gathered twigs with their oversized webbed feet, determinedly re-building their vandalised nest. Of their five little babies, there is no sign, and as I frantically cast around hoping for a sighting, I hear someone say “Shame they nested through weeks of rain and then their chicks get eaten.”

As if punched in the stomach, I exhale sharply, then feel a horrible soreness where my heart is. I wipe my tear-filled eyes with my hand and flee the scene as if distance will help.

And as I trudge heavily back to work I feel the familiar sensation of shock as I wonder how I didn’t see this coming.

How I never see it coming.

"I learned that every mortal will taste death. But only some will taste life" (Rumi)

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