I have a hard time letting go of anything, which explains why I recently cobbled together the remains of an old bird feeder into two birdhouses that may, or may not, soon be inhabited by birds raised during the Depression and thereby unembarrassed by material expressions of poverty.
For a cycle of seasons, the feeder had lain scattered behind a blue spruce, irreparably broken by the last of numerous bear assaults that spanned 10 years and two states. The damage finally exceeded my ability to screw and glue it back into service.
Yet I could not throw it away. The feeder — once beautiful, well-constructed, with a generous capacity — was a gift from friends in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It celebrated my purchase of an old farm graced by a fantastic array of birds: pine grosbeaks, northern cardinals, pileated woodpeckers, woodcocks. Its perches bore the imprints of thousands of avian feet, etched in the aged cedar and my own aging memory. Beauties all, of a kind to pierce the heart, and all now given to time.
Other wild things came to the farm, too: moose, pine martens, ermines whose chocolate summer fur turned a brilliant winter white. And bears, who over the years repeatedly trashed the feeder, drawn to the high-fat, protein-rich sunflower seed.
The Colorado foothills lack such diversity, but my neighborhood here also has bears, who made the feeder a regular target. After each assault, I pieced together and replaced parts, until the last attack put it beyond redemption. Still, I could not part with the feeder. It lay in the strawberry bed behind the spruce through an autumn, a winter, a spring and another summer.
One of the friends who gave me the feeder died a few years ago; that was part of it. The larger truth is that I have an intractable aversion to endings, which in certain circumstances – notably, relationships with people who do not share this aversion – is dysfunctional.
But we are who we are. And while my head understands the reality of impermanence, my heart is all about continuation, which is not to say stasis, but rather reconfiguring. I am ever inclined to make something new of what is old and worn, rather than discarding it.
So the bottoms of this old feeder I loved — the solid floor, and the one with the perches — are now the backs to houses; the sides have become fronts. I lashed them with nylon ties to thrift-store wicker baskets of the proper dimension, and bored holes of the proper diameter. The cracked roof of the old feeder is still a roof, patched and spray-painted to restore the original hunter green. One house is affixed to a fence post, where it might attract wrens, the other higher up in a tree, where it might attract chickadees.
It’s an experiment. Perhaps the birds won’t be drawn to the houses. And if they are, the wicker bodies, though tightly woven, may prove not strong or safe enough.
Yet it pleases me of a morning, when the sun lips over the ridge east of my house, to see that old feeder emerge into light, resurrected. The battered gift, not discarded but repurposed: the scratched fronts soft with age but sturdy; the weathered roof offering shelter from sun and rain. The renewed possibility.
Still beautiful, in the way of time-worn things, and still serviceable.