Chickening out is for the birds

The top-floor apartment that’s been our home these last five years has a great view of a busy street in the front, but in the back, all we see are rows of old multi-units identical to ours. We’re at the top of a hill, so we look down on our neighboring buildings’ rooftops. From the start it’s been entertaining pigeon theater out there. Courtships, turf wars–intense cycle-of-life stuff, really.

At the end of the first full summer we lived here, I witnessed the most disturbing pigeon drama of all. One morning, at the window just outside my office door, a scrawny, sickly looking pigeon perched on the ledge. She stayed there all day, even when I walked right up to her, even when I tapped on the window. I named her Gertie and decided she was my pal–either that, or she was hurt and didn’t have a choice but to hang out with the likes of me (naturally, I preferred to believe the former). Through the workday, I waved at Gertie every time I got up for tea.

In the late afternoon, I readied myself to head out for an appointment. Just as I was leaving, a Goliath of a pigeon flew up and attacked Gertie. She cowered and cried out, her wings flailing helplessly. I banged on the window, and Gertie’s attacker (he?) flew off, then he came right back. I must’ve done this a dozen times, but Gertie wouldn’t/couldn’t budge, and her bully refused to leave her alone. Finally, I had to go to catch my bus.

When I came home, Gertie was gone. I felt incredibly guilty. “You killed your friend,” Dylan teased.

The following summer, the exact same pigeon drama went down outside the exact same window–and the summer after that, and the summer after that. I grew inured, if tired of all the bird shrieks. “Why do all these lame, diseased birds hang out at MY window?” I whined. My bird-phobic mom bought us a plastic owl for Christmas, seen here, and we had a good laugh. (I named him Thirston the Owl.)

When my mother-in-law came for a visit last year, she witnessed Gertie Part IV. Being the sweet and sympathetic soul she is, she wouldn’t let it go. After a few hours of googling and careful bird watching, she figured it out:

Gertie and her successors weren’t sick; they were adolescents. The “bullies” weren’t picking on the Gerties; they were just parents urging them out of the nest, which was apparently right above the window. Guess this annual ritual is just as terrifying as any human being’s coming-of-age–but it’s just as commonplace, too. Another day, another milestone.

Lately I can’t help thinking of the Gerties as we prepare to leave the relative certainty and simplicity of apartment living (our lease is up at the end of July).

See, Dylan went out of town for a few days last week, and I gotta admit, my first impulse was to take a break from the renovations until he got back. I don’t know, maybe it was the remnants of the previous owners’ belongings. Or maybe it was the scarcity of light (to cut costs while paying for two addresses, we’ve pared down the light bulbs to a minimum). For whatever reason, the place has had a ghost-town feel to it that was straight-up spooky sometimes. As dumb as it sounds, I was too chicken to be alone at night in my own house at night.

But then. Thursday and Friday, I’d scheduled two daytime appointments over there: one with the piano movers (more on that in another post), and one with the home-insurance guy. My most immediately pressing deadline was a book review, so I decided to spend all day Thursday and all morning Friday reading on the front porch.

Wow. Having a place to just sit and read outside–really, to just *be* outside at all–has been one of the most rewarding experiences of home ownership so far. I fell in love with the sounds of the neighborhood–simple things, like the porch swing, the cars and pedestrians, the honey bees. I looked out onto the neglected, weedy lawn, and for the first time in my life I felt like yard work might actually be fun.

And. All day long, I watched as a little bird (type?) tended to a nest that’s hiding in the top of the front porch. I couldn’t see the babies, but I could hear them chirping every time the parent (she?) flew up with a morsel in her beak. I could tell I made her nervous. She kept circling, hesitating with a dozen false starts before each tentative trip home. For all she knew, I was licking my lips as I watched her…. But it was worth it to her.

Friday night, I went over to the house right after work, opened a few second-floor windows, and let the night air in. I sung to myself as I pulled carpet tacks, staples, and nails out of what will one day be my office. When I was done with that, I pried quarter rounds off the floor of what will one day be our nursery. For three straight hours alone in the house, I didn’t feel the least bit creeped out. Casa Vitone and I finally bonded.

Lately, people sorta wince when they ask how we’re doing. “How’s the frustration?” they say. “How’s the craziness?” The thing is, in spite of all the mess, the scary what-the-hell-are-we-DOING moments, and my bout of the willies, we’re loving it. Like any other exercise, home renovation is a rush and a release, all awash with invigorating body chemicals that make it worth the aches and exhaustion. Plus the progress we’re making is gratifying as all get-out.

Sitting here in our apartment now, I’m stir-crazy, anxious to build and nurture and grow things. Another day, another life-altering leap off the ledge.

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