The deep meaning of creativity

This year, for the first time since my studio was completed four years ago, a pair of robins nested right in my outside carving area. Robins had nested in similar places on the other side of the building, but never in my workspace. Juncos had nested there, but that’s another story. This is about robins.

The nest was and still is resting on a wide fir beam, under the corner of a transparent awning, near the top of the cliff yet still under cover, warm and unusually safe from predators. Less than fourteen feet from my main outdoor carving station, four babies began as eggs, grew and developed rapidly and then fledged, all within the space of a few weeks. The fledglings flew the coop and it is over now. The barred owl or the ravens may or may not have eaten the babies, and the survivors may or may not be managing, with their parents’ help for a while.

I got to see all this, and after a while I started taking pictures. The image you see here is one among hundreds.

Back when the adults were choosing a nest site and building the nest, I was away a lot. When I was home, I was generally in my office or the garden; mostly the garden, where I built a grape arbor and a curved, contour-hugging stone retaining wall with rocks I found at the top of our meadow where they have accumulated since Ice Age days. For most of that time the outside carving studio was quiet, and rarely did I disrupt the calm. (My taking showers seemed to be the most stressful disruption, probably because my stall is even closer to the nest than my carving station is and I usually shower at dusk, shortly after I’ve finished carving for the day and it has quietened out there.)

The robins must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven when they found that place. But all Hell broke loose when I got back to carving, because I came back with a vengeance. I’d had enough of the city, enough of hauling rocks to the garden and building walls with them, enough of screening soil and hauling that to the garden, and enough of my office. I’d had enough of anything that wasn’t carving, and I wanted to move stone. I wanted to turn the outside of a boulder into chips, dust, and mud, leaving a sculpture exposed. I wanted to get back at it, and so I did.

Literally overnight, a quiet, well-appointed retreat in a forest setting became an industrial zone, and the robins were stuck with it. Many times a day, I came suddenly into view, striding around the southwest corner of the building or opening the giant swinging door into (or worse, out of) the interior. At intervals determined by the amount of compressed air I was using at the time, a big honking compressor came on, close under the nest in a shed, and so loud and so sudden as to startle me at times. Sometimes the boulder literally rang like a bell with the pounding, several times a second with a pneumatic hammer (it still does ring, and everything I do to it changes its tone). Other times, I cut into the rock with a screaming, diamond-studded steel disk, spraying cold dirty water everywhere or kicking up unholy clouds of dust and screaming even louder. I grunted and strained horsing the stone into new positions, and generally acting like a boulder-throwing athlete warming up.

A bright light illuminated everything I did. I was on display, I was the centre of attention, and from the robins’ perspective, I was a bother. From the cheap seats of the robin’s nest, it must been a sight. And a sound. Except for the protection from weather and predators, it was a very different kind of place when I was carving, and the adults didn’t appreciate it much at the beginning. In a word, I freaked them out.

I wasn’t about to stop on their account, either. They would just have to put up with me, and if they couldn’t hack it in my studio they would have to lose that clutch. Hopefully, if they did abandon their clutch they would have sense to build a new nest in another location for the next clutch instead of re-using the old one. Beyond being as considerate as I could be without slowing the work I wasn’t about to change what I did or how I did it. It was my studio, and the robins could live with that or pay the consequences. I knew that if they could put up with me they’d have an enormous advantage over predators, most of whom would be too scared of me to come anywhere near, but I don’t think the robins saw it that way at first.

That’s the back story.

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