Spring Creek Bird House Project A Letter To My Niece
Do you remember the Spring Creek camping trip bluebird house project Uncle Jimmy put together for all you kids back in the eighties?† Jim gave each of you a kit with the cut out parts, hardware, and little hammers. The old VHS video he made for us shows all of you working on them, the only sound the 'tap tap tap' of your little hammers assembling your projects. Samantha was a toddler back then, and Kelsey still an infant with that fuzzy mohawk baby hair.
We forgot the brushes and you had to collect wild flowers and assorted weeds and sticks to paint them, which we all agreed was far more adventurous and fun than using paint brushes anyway. You and Amanda decorated yours with all those crazy splotches and spots.† Amanda's was blue with white, and yours was forest green with white. Most the kids took theirs home, but you and Amanda wanted to leave yours at camp so we hung them up along the creek.
You and your cousins went on with your lives, Spring Creek a fond memory, as you graduated high school and college, some of you got married and had your own kids, and others pursued jobs and careers.† Every year, as your Uncle Larry and I continued our annual trek to Spring Creek, without you now, you would ask if there were any birds living in your house, and the answer was always, sadly, no. Larry speculated that perhaps the creek banks were too dark and cool, and maybe there wasn't enough bugs to feed their babies. Eventually, after ten years had passed, you asked him to bring the houses home, which he did, and as you kids were living in rental houses and apartments, you suggested he hang them up somewhere on the ranch.
We mounted them on the fence posts bordering the hay fields along Putnam Road, and the first spring there they each had a pair of swallows move in and raise their families. Blue birds never did take up residence, but the swallows haven't missed a year since. In the meantime, the Audubon Society noticed your houses along the road, and stopped in to ask if they could hang additional bluebird houses on our fence, and would we mind if they monitored them for bird counts and surveys. That was an easy sell, so next thing you know the bird house neighborhood sprung up a subdivision of fancy new houses, and true to their word, the Audubon's have maintained and added more, and so did we, and all of a sudden it became a regular bird city out there.
Those two little Spring Creek houses started it all, and stood amongst the newcomers like vintage classics. I couldn't help but feel that if birds had a Historic Society, those houses would have been listed on their register.
Amanda's house became the victim of a hoodlum's prank when it was blown up with firecrackers about five years ago. I remember because the sparks started a slow creeping fire in the ditch and the fire department had to be called to put it out. That bird house wasn't the only casualty, either. Most mail boxes along the way became casualties, along with our big multiplex bird house Uncle Larry made the year most your parents got one from us for Christmas. That was a sad day, because back when we made them† we must have had more time on our hands and never did build another one to replace it.
†I noticed this spring your little green and white house tipped forward on its post, clinging by whatever gravity defying bit of hardware kept it from falling to the ground. The paint was so faded you couldn't really tell what color it used to be. What was left of the roof was warped and peeling back, and the poor thing was a shell of its former glory. This spring Uncle Larry made a note to himself to remove it and retire it to the burn pile, but before he got around to it a determined pair of acrobatic swallows once again took up residence, darting in and out from the sagging hole below with their beaks full of bugs for their babies. We decided that once their chicks flew the coop, we would take it down for good.
On my way home from the ranch today, my mind preoccupied with how I was going to get the paint off my t-shirt after putting a fresh coat on the outhouse, something caught my eye out of my peripheral vision. I instantly knew, before I even looked, that it was out of place, wrong somehow. That little, dilapidated house was missing! In its place, a brand new pine house with shiny hinges, sitting upright like a new sentry on its post. Then, like a re-wind flashback, I recalled seeing the Audubon's this morning out with their note books and clip boards inspecting, counting, and doing their surveys. They must have taken pity on the current dwellers and carefully removed the nest and babies while they replaced that old dwelling, gently nestling the little chicks in their new home. I can only imagine the concern those birds must have felt when those folks were moving them, and, perhaps, delighted surprise when they saw how they had moved up in the world, the proud tenants of arguably the nicest house on their block.† (Editorís note: Mystery?† It was not Audubon that removed the old box and put up new box with hinges Ė we donít have hinges on our boxes).
Although I understand why the Audubon's did it, and even agree that it needed to be done, I couldn't help but feel sadness at the end of that little house's story. I knew those bird-loving folks couldn't possibly understand the years of memories behind that old house, and realized it was still standing out there because we couldn't bring ourselves to take it down. The truth was, with all our good intentions, we probably never would have.
So, Shallan, I wanted you to know that it is, in fact, gone. Perhaps its departure won't have the same impact on you, or anyone else for that matter, as it has me. I felt compelled to tell you that every day, when I drove past it on the road, without even thinking about it I would look for it, and remember the little girl you used to be sitting at that picnic table in the middle of that big forest, hunched over in determined concentration, tap-tap-tapping as you worked that hammer, and seeing the bunch of wild flowers in your fist dipping in the paint can and sloshing those blotches into an abstract design with an artists' flair. I wanted you to know that, forever, I'll remember.
Love you, Pigweed,