Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Broom in the Country

There is a bird’s nest on the column on our porch. It was there last year and a bird had her babies in it and now she’s back again. Or a different bird moved in. I’m not sure.

It is a miracle of modern construction. I expected at least to find it askew the next morning after we had tornadic winds the night before but it stayed stuck up there like gum on a shoe. There are dirt splatters on the rafter and the ceiling around it like she put it together with spit. There are bits of hay and stems. She’s got a horse hair up there. A long piece from a tail or it could be from my own head. I pat my head as if to check if I am missing something. I am watching her from the rocking chair. I don’t know how she gets any sleep with us in and out all night. Since we’ve been trying to quit smoking, we made a new rule that there is no smoking in the house. I figured if we have to go outside every time we light up, it would be hard to smoke so many. The porch light is on more than it is off. If one of us is not out there smoking, the other one is. I began to move things outside. There is a basket with magazines. There is a candle. An extra pair of glasses. A pen, my rock collection, and of course, an ashtray. The bird must be exhausted.

I am surprised she came back to use the nest with us out there smoking our brains out. Talk about bad neighbors. We even got a couple of cats here. But they can’t climb up the column because it’s made of plastic. It is actually quite genius, where she put her nest, under the porch, behind the eaves, on a house belonging to me.

It could have been Effie’s house. Effie knocks birds’ nests down with her broom. One time she nailed one with her shoe. “That’ll teach him for making a mess on my truck,” she said. Effie’s turquoise pickup truck is her pride and joy. She parks it under one of those metal carports they sell in farmer’s fields and empty driveways next to insurance offices and music shops for $595 installation included.

My girlfriend told me a story, (another city girl gone country, and so we often swap stories about how we came to be loving this country life), about when she was a girl and she spent her summers at a farm in upstate New York. She told me about how the girl who lived on the farm, let’s call her The Farm Girl, picked up a broom, and my friend, who sat on a crate in the barn aisle picking her nails, expected her to do what most people do when they pick up brooms--sweep the floor. Suddenly The Farm Girl raised the broom above her head and swung it at a bird’s nest that was built on a ledge over her saddle. Baby birds scattered like a jar of pennies fell and broke open. My friend screamed. The Farm Girl was genuinely surprised to see her reaction and offered to scoop them back up and place them back in the nest. They might survive. If you don’t touch them, the mother bird will never know. The Farm Girl crawled on her hands and knees and gathered up the pieces of the nest while my friend sobbed and shook her head. The Farm Girl molded the pieces back into a bowl-shape like she was making a piece of pottery and placed it back onto the ledge above the saddle. “See, see, it’s just like it was before,” she assured her. She pushed one of the hairless birds onto the basin of a shovel with the toe of her boot, lifted it to the nest and dumped it in. My friend wailed louder. She vowed she would never be that kind of farm girl. I nodded.

And then the mice tore up our grain, chewed holes in our saddle blankets and left droppings all over the place like chocolate sprinkles on a cone. The humane traps were all talk and no action. We consulted with each other over the phone. How to do this? What was kinder? The classic mouse trap, a sticky trap or poison? I opted for the poison. I didn’t need to see the beseeching face of a mouse looking up at me and wiggling his nose to please come and save him, or a body flopping around in a panic, half dead because the bar on the trap missed and only got a limb. No, if I had to do it, I didn’t want to see it.

After the dogs died and before I got The Big Stupid, there were larger rodent problems, possums, raccoons, something big I couldn’t figure out what it was, and a fox situation. There was a copperhead (See “The Do-Nothing Technique) plus coyotes howling out back who I was sure were having fantasies about a Minnie the Pony dinner with all the fixin’s. And the birds. Just like in The Farm Girl’s barn, they crapped all over the hay, on the trophies on the shelf, on the jars of Corona and Kopertox and on my saddles. White bird dung dried to a dust and blew all over the place, coating cracks and crevices like baby powder when a wind came in. I swept it up every day. But I didn’t sweep away any baby birds. I tried to scare them from coming in by hanging up owls like the kind you see dangling in the big doorways where the DOT keeps their sand and road salt. But birds are smart. They never fell for it. They kept coming in and making a mess all over everything. I covered all my stuff with plastic tablecloths and Hefty bags. I thought about The Farm Girl and even though I could never do what she did, I stopped thinking she was so mean.

Eventually Kurt came to the rescue and spent one of his days off cutting boards and fitting them into the spaces between the wall and the roof like a jig-saw puzzle. There would be no more ventilation through the eaves but there are enough gaps and openings in that barn that we could seal the whole thing up with caulking and still get plenty of air. Then we stood back and watched. A bird flew over and slammed on the brakes. He hovered, scratched his head like what happened, flapped his wings and took off for the trees where he should have been in the first place.

Maybe he told the bird on the porch about me. A kind lady lives there. She saved a copperhead once. The only thing you have to put up with is some second-hand smoke, but hey, it’s a perfect spot, on a perfect little porch, on a perfect little house. The only thing they’ll do on that porch with a broom is sweep it.


Becky Mushko said...

I think a porch bird came with our place. There's been one ever since we've moved here in 1999.

Or maybe it's the availability of horsehair. The bird thinks, "Hmm. Plentiful building material. Warm. durable. Cheap."

When we lived in Roanoke, we always had at least one porch bird. A male cardinal was the guard bird every night on our back porch (never same him during the day) and a dove nested on the carport.

I also have barn swallows in the horse shed. They moved in shortly after the shed was built in 2000. Hopefully, they're eating lots of mosquitoes, so I don't begrudge them their bathroom habits.

As for the mice and rats, the cats and dogs do their part, but I really need a couple of blacksnakes. Got any?

Amy Tate said...

Did you see the big chunk of horse tail on Becky's blog? That bird must be related to your bird. We have one too. She comes back every year to our front porch. My cat stalks the nest from the inside window. I always know she's back when I hear Sabrina make hunting chirps. I bet that bird laughs and makes faces at her.

Sloan said...

I couldn't sweep them down either. You really should write a book about your experiences on the farm. I love to read your stories aand can't wait for the new ones!!!

Amy Hanek said...

I just found a bird trying to make a home over one of our bedroom windows. I think the space may be too narrow - but you never know. There is a sparrow in my shed. He lived there long before I moved in, so I show respect. He does like to poop on some of my gardening stuff. Nothing a little water can't fix...

Mrs Mom said...

I almost miss having a regular barn, and barn swallows dive bombing my head in the mornings. My Very Best Friend and I used to have to duck- a couple of those Momma Brids had darn good aim!

They always find the neatest places to nest too....

Anonymous said...

I have never had problems with birds but since moving to the country I have had a problem with a fox. Growing up in the city you think farm people are cruel for killing wold life but when you live in the country you realize why they do it.

colleen said...

When the phoebe's first set up their nest on our porch I was like held prisoner on my own porch, having to be quiet while they were feeding the young etc. Now after several years of them coming back I am harder, but nothing like Farm Girl!

Here's my bird's in the rafter poem: