Saturday, January 18, 2014

House Hunting for the Birds

                Found among the trash and treasures when we took over the summer lake house in early spring, was a simple birdhouse with a small round opening. It was easy to miss at first exploration, hidden as it was beneath the work bench.  It was covered with dust and its bottom lay apart on the floor.  I washed it off, fitted the bottom in place, and decided to brighten it up with a coat of paint before welcoming a feathered family.  It was late in the day and we were not staying, so I parked the birdhouse on a cement ledge that held a pillar of the deck in place, making a mental note to bring paint next time we came.
                We returned after two weeks, following a spell of wind and rain. I found the birdhouse on the ground at the foot of the pillar. Its bottom and top had come apart in its fall. With a sigh, I picked up the pieces, and was astonished to find a small, broken nest within the house. Though there were no eggshells, still I felt sad that I had not fastened the house to the pillar. Either the wind, or my neighbor’s orange cat, Morris, must have brought it down and shattered the hopes of a bird couple.
                I nailed the roof back on, refitted the bottom and put the nest material back in the box.  Since somebird was already interested in the home, I decided not to paint it, but considered tying the box to the same pillar.  The ledge of the pillar was only a yard above the ground—low enough to attract Morris, perhaps for a second time.  So instead, I secured it with wire to a hook on the bottom of the overhanging deck.
                Then I joined my husband by the shore. After a
swim I spotted a swallow gracefully swooping over the lake.  He was a cute, sparrow-sized bird with iridescent blue and black on its back, a black beak and a white breast.  He landed on a branch of the straggly tree rooted at the water’s edge. Looking back at our house, I saw his mate sitting on the pillar’s ledge where the birdhouse had been. She sat with head bowed, wings hanging limply at her sides. The male tree swallow, for that’s what he was—swooped over to her, chirping, but she remained the picture of dejection.  He returned to the tree and called to her again. Still she did not move.
                “Look!” I said to my husband, “She wants the box and her nest. But it wasn’t safe there.”
                “Tell that to her,” he said.
                The male flew toward the house again. This time he passed the birdhouse. He flew by it again and again. Then, landing on the perch, he tilted his head to look inside.
                He called to his mate. I was certain he was saying, “Look, sweetie, here’s our home. Come up here and take a look.”
                Sweetie did not budge.
                The tiny male flew back to the tree and made repeated sweeps toward the birdhouse, calling excitedly all the while, “Sweetie! It’s our house! It’s up here. We can build another nest.”
                Sweetie turned to look at him. She shrugged her wings but made no move to leave off her mourning.
                “I hope she changes her mind,” I told my husband. “They’re so pretty. I’d love to see them raise a family here.”
                The male continued his swoops and chirpings. I admired his grace and the iridescent flash of his feathers. But the female would not change her mind. With what I interpreted as a last sigh, she lifted off the ledge and flew past us toward the other end of the lake. The male followed. They did not return to our house that summer though I did occasionally see the male’s graceful acrobatics over the lake.

                I left the birdhouse fastened to the bottom of the deck. I hope next spring somebird will take possession of it. Perhaps I should attach a sign, “For lease—cozy, convenient and safe from cats. Ready to move in.” 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Weather Swings

I remember the last verse of a song about climate that I heard as a child. It was sung to the tune of “Sweet Betsy from Pike.”
                “But we poor unfortunates live in a clime
                That calls for at least three full suits at a time-
                A thick one, a thin one for days cold and hot,
                And a medium weight for the days that are not.”

The song is true for the north east. In the summer we wear the lightest possible clothing, in winter, the warmest.  And, at least when I was young, you wore a light jacket or raincoat for spring and fall. There were some transition days— Indian Summer and “Pilgrim Winter”—when the weather, heading toward the new season, took a few days off to remind us of the previous.  Once into winter, you could safely store away your summer clothes. And after taking your light clothes out, you pretty much stuck to them. Seasonal change was predictably gradual.

But last year and this one, all bets are off. I stored away my light jacket right after Thanksgiving. I took it out a week and a half ago and again yesterday, when, just for one day each, the temperature soared toward the 60s. Then the thermometer dropped again.  This morning it was 2o!

Mother Nature is very angry and she’s letting us know.  I wish, if she’s mad at decision makers who refuse to abandon fossil fuels for renewables, that she’d make some accommodation for homeless humans as well as birds and animals living out doors.  But we are all in this together for what appears to be a long haul.

I hope it’s not too late to appease Mom.