A bridal tent, a bird’s nest.

Last week, our friendly UPS deliveryman set another large, heavy box on the tiled floor of our office.  (It is the time of our business year for receiving deliveries, for purchasing what we hope to sell over the next few months, for investing somewhat blindly in our own ideas.)  From this particular box we pulled a custom-made 10’x12′ canvas wall tent that would serve as shelter for brides at our wedding venue in the moments before their ceremonies, before they became married.

Wall tent

Wall tent, mid-construction.

Tucked away in the trees and outfitted with a few chairs and a table and a mirror, this sturdy tent would replace its more flimsy, translucent predecessor.  In my experience (I am a wedding designer– have I mentioned that?), those moments in the bridal tent before the ceremony can be the most fragile, most delicate of the entire day.  I walk in — the guests all seated in the nearby meadow, the string trio already playing, the groom standing with sun in his eyes and the mountains at his back — to collect the bride for her walk down the aisle, and say as softly as possible, Are you ready?  Sometimes she responds by popping up onto her feet, blinking her mascara-ed lashes and smiling.  Sometimes she takes one last pull off of her flask of tequila, passes it to her maid of honor and smacks her bright red lips.  Sometimes she pauses and looks at me with urgency, on the cusp of something great or vast, as if she would like me to answer the question for her.  Often times I’ve become quite close to the bride over the course of planning her wedding, and in a way, during these last few seconds in the little tent before the ceremony, she seems to look at me as if I have an answer for her, as if (because I’ve had the answers for her all along about how many chairs we’ll need and how we might fold the napkins and when we should cut the cake) I am able to say just the thing she needs to hear in that moment.  Naturally, I don’t have a clue.  I am myself only a couple weeks from my third wedding anniversary, and although I am quite familiar with weddings, a marriage is still to me a mostly mysterious thing.  But I smile, say something appropriately soothing or celebratory or encouraging, depending on the mood, shake out her train or rub away a smudge of makeup with my thumb, and send her down the aisle.

So when our new canvas wall tent arrived, I felt particularly relieved that these fragile pre-ceremony moments would now be safely contained by a stronger, more robust structure.  A few of our handier guides sliced into a few Lodgepole pines, pulled measuring tapes, climbed up and down ladders, stretched canvas, and slowly brought the tent into being.  As they worked, I walked around and around the tent, admiring it from each angle as it went up.

Mid-construction, one of the guides waived me over to one corner of the tent, where the branches of a Ponderosa nearly brushed up against the canvas, and pointed into the dark needles.  I leaned my head in a little and saw a perfectly spun robin’s nest holding four blue eggs.  As I leaned in closer, I could hear the mother in the branches above me, squawking, protesting my proximity to her babies.  I stepped away.

Bird's nest

Bird’s nest at the wall tent.

The next day, after the power tools had been cleared, I walked up to the tent by myself to arrange a few chairs and mostly to marvel at it, all finished and expectant.  The robin had settled herself back into her nest, camouflaging her soft brown plumage into the swirl of sticks and grasses, watching me with one eye and sitting entirely still.  I did not want to push the metaphor, but I admit I did think it a rather perfect coincidence.  I don’t mean to insinuate that brides are fragile little eggs in need of my motherly protection until they are ready to fly from the nest — not at all.  (In fact, brides are often strong and radiating in that moment before their ceremonies.)  I simply mean that I did relate to that bird’s nurturing impulse, to that desire to make a delicate, emotionally charged moment for another human being somewhat easier, cozier, safer.

I think we often do for others what we wish someone would do for us.  Perhaps what we learn then is that we can do it for ourselves.

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13 thoughts on “A bridal tent, a bird’s nest.

  1. I believe my ‘just before’ moment involved several dashes to the bathroom and the conscious effort not to think. Which is odd, because I was always ready to get hitched to husband. I think I just couldn’t believe it was actually happening.

    I love the insight you offer about all those brides. Made me want to get married again. I confess, I’m always a little sad when couples decide not to have a wedding, however small of intimate. There is something about just taking a breath at that moment in time.

    “I think we often do for others what we wish someone would do for us. Perhaps what we learn then is that we can do it for ourselves.”

    Such a lovely, hopeful truth. Thanks for that.

    • Agreed, BeZ. There *is* something about stopping and recognizing that moment, that shift. And it’s often about more (I think) than the person at the other end of the aisle. It’s about leaving some things behind and then gaining other things, opening up to other things.

      I thought of this yesterday when I was watching something about that man in Niagara Falls who tight-roped across the falls in the dark. I thought: how did he know he could do it? How does one prepare for that kind of stunt, that risk and exhilaration? If he had never done it before, how did he take that first step with confidence that he would make it to the other side?

      But then again, I guess that’s just the point.

  2. You write so elegantly. Your description of this “rather perfect coincidence” adds to the poignancy of the metaphor and the beauty of the moment. It’s so perfect it’s almost fiction. Thank you – reading this was like taking a deep breath of morning-fresh air.

    • Thank YOU for that incredible complement. I do love when nonfiction can feel like fiction, so I am thrilled that you felt that way about this little piece.

  3. I have always enjoyed rituals, and “the wedding” is one of the most important rituals that many people take part in during their lives (“the funeral” being the other great ritual – but load less enjoyable for all involved). So you are a purveyor of ritual – what an interesting job and probably most satisfying job to have! All those varieties of reactions all leading to the same conclusion throughout the day – how interesting to be a witness to all of that. I loved your observations about the nest of eggs and the mother bird. In the end she will have to let them fly on their own, but it is such a pleasure to send someone on their way with the best possible start that you can give them.

    • Yes, it is indeed a very interesting and satisfying job– on many levels. Aesthetically, I love pulling all of the details together into one big gorgeous piece of installation art. Anal-Retentively, I love the spreadsheets and lists that keep track of all of the moving parts. And as a person who loves people and their stories, I could not ask for a job that gets me closer to so many people’s inner-workings, family dynamics and personalities. I am lucky. Thanks for reminding me of that fact just now, at then end of a long work day!

  4. As Pavlova said – reading this post was like taking a deep breath of fresh morning air. Sigh. Just lovely. What a privilege and a joy it must be to share such intimate moments with people – although I’m sure you must get to witness your fair share of drama as well. 🙂 I had never really considered what the moment before a wedding is like. After all – the decision was made long before that moment, but in a way, not really. The decision isn’t really completely made until you walk down the aisle and say those words, and make that shift. Lots of food for thought… Thank you for a beautiful post.

  5. I enjoyed the photos you shared and the way you described each so delicately and poignantly. The fresh air and the smell of the trees was right there for me and I could feel Mother Robin eyeing me with annoyance and disapproval as I peeked into her nest of beautiful blue eggs. How perfect that they are blue – and small and fragile and pretty but also wrapped around a whole new life. The parallels are lovely. It must require a great deal of confidence and empathy to step into that liminal moment with so many people, each meeting it in their own way. I am glad for your brides that you can combine a love for spreadsheets (such an under-appreciated skill) 😉 with an appreciation for mystery, or magic, or maybe just the unknown that we allow in those rare moments of ritual. I agree with what Bellacanto said about weddings being one of the last rituals that we’ll still embrace with reverence. It was a pleasure to have a little peek into your world LZ. Thank you for inviting us in!

    • I love your description of the eggs ‘wrapped around a whole new life’– what a gorgeous image and, as you say, a lovely parallel. Thanks also for backing me up in my love of spreadsheets.

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