They built the house I live in 1954. To friends and family, I describe it as Mid-Century Modern, which until I moved in and researched it, I didn’t realize was a thing. A rather popular thing, as it turns out. What interests the post-modern millennials who snap up the finest examples, are the clean lines, open layout, and innovative use of natural materials associated with the period. Think space-age, progressive, fresh. My house shares some of these characteristics. The two features I enjoy most are the surfeit of windows and the prominent use of wood and stone.
My husband and I admire the workmanship and the quality of the materials. Half of the house is covered in three-quarter-inch pine boards joined tongue and groove. These form solid walls rivaling the most durable wooden flooring. My kitchen cabinets are knotty pine, a material which (depending on your age and outlook) is dated, quaint or retro. It definitely is NOT the de rigueur blaze of quartz counter, white cupboards, and tasteful ceramic tile flooring demanded of a contemporary remodeling. I love the golden maple syrup glazed patina. It reminds me of Adirondack cabins. Rustic charm surrounds me, an ever-present reminder to rest, relax and renew.
Designed as an enclosed porch, one of my favorite rooms squints off the back of the house. Banks of windows line three walls. The room is long and narrow, but sun-filled, cozy and relaxing. There are no curtains, no place to hide. I ignore my need for privacy. I let the world watch me watching them. I rejoice in the annual cycle of the sun.
Last spring we put a bird feeder in the back yard. We measured ten feet out from the enclosed porch and ten feet from the sunken family room. We placed the bird feeder at the intersection of these two points. It gives an equally advantageous view to the three people eating in what I rechristened as the bird room.
Our feeder is ordinary. A large green box, shaped like a house, sits atop a tall metal pole. It holds the black oil sunflower seed favored by cardinals, finches, and chickadees. Three shepherd’s crooks extend from the central post. A tube feeder filled with mixed seed hangs on the left, a covered tray feeder filled with hulled sun- and safflower seeds on the right. In winter, the middle arm holds a suet feeder. Now it is spring and the hummingbird feeder hangs from it. We keep a daily diary of the wildlife we view out our back window.
For over a year the feeder has stood sentry. Through snow and wind, hail and sun it’s offered seed to every bird willing to pick and poke through its holes and grids. The rabbits, squirrels and woodchucks are welcome to scavenge through whatever falls on the ground. Between the starlings, nuthatches and woodpeckers searching out the peanuts, we believed plenty of food fell to earth.
I’ve learned to distinguish between individual animals. The ones with peculiar physical characteristics are easiest to recognize. There’s White Ears the squirrel and Wilbur the woodchuck. Notchy, a male rabbit missing a triangular piece from the tip of his ear, nibbles on the clover growing outside my office window. One Leg is easy to identify. He’s a male house finch who broke his leg last summer. His foot detached, and we have watched him carry on, if more wobbly, mating and raising a family. He was a regular at the feeder over the winter. Now that spring broods are hatching, we haven’t seen him much, but each time we do we rejoice in his survival and note it in the diary.
One day a new squirrel appeared in the yard. She looked like a cross between a gray and a red squirrel. I wondered if some illicit inter-species hanky-panky had been going on. She was smaller than a gray. Her fur was brown, varying from a rusty red to strawberry gold at the tips of her tail. Using my system of naming our woodland friends by their physical characteristics, I called her Brownie.
She was muscular, her physique ripped and toned and she was smart. That clever girl is the only squirrel to understand if she climbs the ornamental pear tree in the front yard, she can scrabble over the bedroom wing, and the porch to reach the family room. She can use the overhanging roof to launch onto the peaked top of the hopper feeder. It took a few tries to get the distance right, but our girl Brownie is the super persistent sort and soon dialed in on her target. More often than not, making a perfect three point landing. Thus, the Seed Wars began.
First, we tried mounting an old wok cover balanced on a stick above the feeder. She learned to land on a wobbly curved surface. We replaced the wok cover with a slippery plastic sheet, which worked for a time, especially when it rained, but she learned to stick the landing again. The squirrel deterrent bar guarding the sunflower seed wasn’t effective. Brownie figured out if she used the shepherd’s crook as a perch, she could reach into the bin for fists of seed. We lowered the crook. Blocked from the sunflowers, she turned her efforts to the tube feeder, trying to gnaw through the wire mesh surrounding the tube. Finding the metal too thick to bite through, she discovered if she hung upside down clinging to the cage with her hind paws, she could shovel seed both into her mouth and onto the ground. Even if she has to jump off the tube feeder, food is waiting when she returns.
This brilliant squirrel interrupts my sleep. I think about attaching bells that ring, balls that spin and spikes that skewer to the top of the feeder. I reflect on air guns and attaching sticky rat traps to her landing pad. But perhaps the thing I most wish for is a squirrel launcher. A thing that when landed on would spring back and send her flying far, far away. This magical thing would have to reset itself as it must be ready to defend against her next attempt, for our girl will persist. I even ran an internet search trying to find someone who had devised and marketed such a contraption. But alas, I could find no one who has. Could this be my million dollar idea? I’d love to see it. Lord, it would be funny watching that little brown squirrel fly through the air.