When I was little, I adored turning page after page of The Best Nest by P.D. Eastman, as Mr. and Mrs. Bird gathered horsehair, mattress stuffing, and sweater string to create their new nest. If you read the book as much as me, you will certainly remember the refrain: "I love my house. I love my nest. In all the world my nest is best."
Well, it's an impossible challenge to pick the best nest from the photography exhibit The Botany of Nests by Sharon Beals, now showing at the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. Every nest is a marvel of nature and architecture. Even Mr. and Mrs. Bird might get house envy.
San Francisco-based Beals borrowed nests and eggs from collections at the California Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley, and the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology to create these highly detailed photographs. She presents them tenderly and dramatically, enlarged and set against black backgrounds to show off the workmanship and artfulness of these miniature wonders.
As a DIYer, the instinct to create and nest holds particular resonance for me. So it's hard not to see these intricate creations as a supremely resourceful DIY. A bit of yarn here, a piece of lace woven in along this edge, a scrap of frayed burlap tucked into twigs. The Tailor Bird stitches small pillows of fluff and twigs into tea leaves. Anna's Hummingbird weaves spider webs into its eensy nest and camouflages it with lichen. The House Finch creates a cheery nest from colorful sewing scraps, cellophane, plastic and paper.
The library itself is a perfect venue for this exhibition. The building is tucked low and snug inside the Botanical Gardens; its hushed reverence amplifies the quiet of each nest. Some are wispy, feathery creations lined with plant down. Others are built from sticks and protected by thorny branches. Taking in the nests' muted colors and artfully asymmetrical shapes, it's impossible not to wonder if birds have an innate aesthetic to match their exquisite weaving and construction skills.
Mr. and Mrs. Bird may have introduced me to the craft, utility and beauty of simple nests. Now Beals' keen eye exalts them.
The Botany of Nests by Sharon Beals is at the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture at San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park through June 30, 2009. For more information visit sfbotanicalgarden.org.