The birds and the bees
May 23, 2006
The new neighbors moved in sometime around March. Must have been in the dead of night, because we didn't even notice for a few days. A childless couple when we first met them, they wasted no time exhibiting their domestic qualities setting up their new home and going about the business of starting their young family right outside our front door. It's not every day we'd tolerate such activities on our porch 24/7, but these are rather special neighbors.
Meet the Mockingbirds mom, dad and a feisty brood of chicks who sought shelter from the storms amid the rafters of our entryway, safely concealed from predators behind a wall of wisteria. We have had a front row seat to observe their comings and goings these past few weeks as they crafted their nest and now carefully attend the hungry hatchlings inside. The babies are amazingly quiet, spending most of their time incommunicado deep in the basket of down and straw they call home. It is only when mom appears with a mouthful of grub that they get to chattering, and then it is tough not to notice them. On a warm day when our front door is open you can hear them twittering away in unison come feeding time. There are at least three chicks we have seen, but we have resisted temptation to climb the ladder and investigate further, not wanting to disturb the nest.
Besides, it doesn't take much to get the birds riled. Simply opening the front door, or moving past it with just the screen closed, is enough to send ma and pa scrambling. That must be something you learn in Raising Young Birds 101: When danger threatens, try to lure it away from the nest by drawing attention to yourself. Truthfully, we're probably the best friends those birds have. Just because they were sneaky enough to build inside the porch to keep them safe from outdoor critters does nothing to protect them from the prying eyes of our two cats, and trust us when we say that having a bunch of birds coming and going on your front porch every day is to a cat what a trip to the chocolate factory is to a 5-year-old kid. If it weren't for our vigilance in keeping Eevee and Ariel indoors they would soon park themselves beneath that nest and wait for the first ill-fated attempt at flight by one of the young'uns.
The nesting ritual is a reassuring sign that spring is here at last maybe this time to stay. The pageant of storm systems that spoiled much of March and April stopped hogging the stage end of last month and allowed the sunshine a few moments in the spotlight. In a week we literally went from dressing in jackets and sweaters on a Monday to wearing T-shirts and shorts by Friday, huddled under the ceiling fan and wishing for a little moderation on nature's part. But it's tough to curse even a mild heatwave after so many weeks when you would have welcomed one. And just sitting here on a nice spring afternoon with a gentle Delta breeze rustling the trees and spreading the scent of honeysuckle through the open window of the writing sanctuary is enough to lull you into a nap. But who has time for that?
As much as Glenn hated building fences in the rain, he now is glad he did. With the return of good weather there are better things to be doing. Things that shouldn't be put off. Things that, much like a gangrenous appendage, can't be ignored. We refer to cleaning out the garage. The trick with garage cleaning, as with many unenviable tasks in life, is that it never gets done unless one has a deadline to meet. The thoughtful souls at the local garbage company provide us with just such a deadline a couple of times a year, inevitably when we are least prepared for them. The week before Memorial Day is always spring cleanup days, which means that for one day you can pile up heaping mountains (relatively small heaping mountains, actually) of household debris with your regular trash collection and the garbage gurus will cart it away. The catch is that you actually have to find all the stuff you want to get rid of, package it up the way they want it, then stick it at the curb on trash night.
We have no problem finding the "stuff." It resides in our garage, which most times of the year resembles something out of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". There are so many booby traps hidden among the empty boxes, scraps of wood and broken appliances that litter the floor, it makes the streets of Baghdad look practically safe. Okay, so this is perhaps an exaggeration, but you don't need IEDs when you've got rogue rake handles to reach out and smack you in the face, as happened to poor Ben one afternoon, or metal bedframes to scrape the skin from your legs, as Roni can attest. It was as Glenn was trying to find a bare patch of floor to stack a dozen leftover bags of fence post concrete that we realized the garage monster was expanding beyond its boundaries.
So we spent the weekend of May 13-14 going through the grunge, ridding our garage of years of accumulated keepsakes and stuff we had plain forgotten about. A lot of it we kept, consolidating it into better boxes and storage containers. But a lot of it we chucked, with plans to dump more when we eventually rent a Dumpster from the garbage company to unload all the old fence boards that are still piled in the back yard. We broke down a lot of cardboard, wrapped up several rolls of old carpet, and delivered a few bags of decade-old festival T-shirts to the Goodwill. Boxes of trashed baby toys, an old desk and miscellaneous nonfunctional lamps and electronics also found their way to the discard pile. We made a run to the household hazardous waste dropoff site with a carload of paint cans. We hadn't even realized how much paint we'd accumulated in nine years as homeowners until we rounded up all the gallon containers and 5-gallon buckets that had been scattered about the garage. Despite throwing away much of it, we have almost an equal amount that we hung onto. Now we just hope the trash collectors do their part and take what we've offered up to the garbage gods.
Spring. How much do we love this time of year? Enough to run out and replace all the crap we just tossed with future crap from the garden center. The only difference between the two varieties of crap is that you aren't sure what of the stuff you buy today is bonafide crap and what of it might actually be useful for a few years. In the case of the two flats of strawberries we picked up to plant in our garden, they showed their crappy qualities all too soon. Roni put the plants in the ground on a Sunday, and by Wednesday they had a 95 percent mortality rate. We watered them and everything, but they failed to thrive. We had better luck with the bareroot roses we planted in the front yard. We put 'em in cages to protect their tender roots from Mr. Gopher Too. They suffered shock at first, but it looks like they are coming back well and should grow into healthy bushes soon.
We have also been trying to encourage the local birds by purchasing a variety of feeders that we have attached to the gazebo over our back patio and hung from one branch of our fruitless (and thus far leafless) mulberry tree. The mockingbirds, when they aren't guarding the nest, spend a lot of time hanging out in the back yard. They frequently battle the jays, mourning doves and finches that also frequent the yard in search of food. We had been noticing a hummingbird that seemed to come by several times a week looking for nectar, so we bought a plastic feeder that Roni filled with a red liquid the hummers are supposed to go for. To date the hummer has ignored the feeder, preferring the barrel of lavender growing directly beneath it. However, the feeder has attracted a steady stream of bumblebees who are big enough to be confused with hummingbirds. The bees, which seem to grow larger every year, have also been getting drunk on the honeysuckle that is currently taking over our front yard. They are all a kick to watch as they check out the yard and bumble their way here or there.
Ben has been getting into gardening since we cleaned up the side yard after rebuilding the neighbor fence. Last month we put down redwood bark and planted a lemon tree in a barrel with the promise that he could garden there as long as he maintained the plants. He has since added flowers and a tomato plant that he grew at school. While he waits for Dad to extend the sprinkler line that direction, Ben is watering everything by hand.
Ben is also getting ready for the end of sixth grade, hard as that is for us to believe. For his 12th birthday we asked him how he wanted to celebrate, and his requests were simple: He wanted to go miniature golfing with his friend Joey, and he wanted a trip to the San Francisco Zoo to see the penguins. An unusual request for a 12-year-old boy? Not when you understand that he went on a field trip early this school year to see the movie "March of the Penguins" when it was in the theater, and then he got a DVD of the movie for Christmas. He has been fascinated by penguins ever since. In particular the emperor penguins that were featured in the movie.
Our original plan was to go away to Monterey for a few days and lounge by the beach, a trip that was to include a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where they also have penguins. But we'd done so much traveling already this year that our energy and financial reserves were running low, so we decided the trip to the zoo would suffice. At $12 a pop for adults, less for kids, San Francisco Zoo is still a bargain. We made a Sunday of it, saw the penguins, and took in the other exhibits until we were ready to drop after walking around the place for several hours. Ben wasn't too disappointed that the penguins were the African variety rather than the emperors he'd seen in the movie. They were still fun to watch at feeding time as they sped through their tank and waddled after the animal keepers in hopes of an extra fish.
On May 2, Ben got his wish of a mini golf tournament after school. Ben brought along Joey and his older sister Angelica for a couple of hours at Golf and Games in Antioch. Glenn joined the kids to play the 18 holes while Roni composed the gallery. After a wild time of putting up ramps, through pipes, over curbs and through bushes, we journeyed inside the arcade and made short work of $20 worth of game tokens. Then it was off to Burger King for a victory dinner.
We dropped Ben's friends at home before heading back to our house for cake and presents. Ben had been asking for just one gift leading up to the big day, and you can imagine his shock when he got it: an Apple iPod Nano, which he is happily using to enjoy his ever-changing music collection. We got him a stereo speaker set that he can plug into the thing at night to use while he is falling asleep. It took him a few tries to get the hang of using it, but now he is comfortable moving tunes into and off of his various playlists. Dad is already jealous and wants one for his birthday.
Glenn has been back at work on his novel after taking a couple of months off during the fence construction. He spent the past month ironing out holes in the plot and thinks he's at last ready to get back to writing the thing. He's dropped 10 pounds since the beginning of the year, much of that attributable to the outdoor exercise and modified diet. He'd like to shed another 10.
Earlier this month we got the news we had been expecting when Glenn's newspaper was sold to MediaNews as part of a four-paper, $1 billion deal with McClatchy Newspapers to dispose of unwanted properties the latter acquired in its purchase of Knight Ridder Inc. The sale, which should close sometime around the start of July, comes as a bit of a relief to the employees who had been dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing who the new owner would be. MediaNews CEO William Dean Singleton promises no immediate changes in management structure or operations. The key word there, as in all mergers and acquisitions, is "immediate." But for now everyone has a job, which is a good thing indeed.
Well, the clouds and rain have returned, drenching our pile of garage garbage that still sits in the driveway awaiting the trash collector. Looks like we've got a mess on our hands tomorrow when we bring the stuff down to the curb. Wish us luck. We'll see you next month.
Glenn, Roni and Ben