As tight young leaves unfurl, real estate has gone to the birds. Some couples arrive at the neighborhood to find protected perches to weave grass nests. Others seek cavities. A turf war broke out between two couples who each wanted the same property. Those of us who live here, wonder what will become of the property values.
Much depends on the new neighbors.
When the woodpeckers first arrived, I admit I felt some alarm. After all, they make holes in trees. However, they eat insects that kill trees; thus they can be good neighbors. I watch them move into a tall maple at the edge of the backyard. They are northern flickers, and chatty. Across Ethel half a block away we can hear a resident blue jay. He’s even chattier.
That’s when the Whirlygig bird makes his move. He stands atop the peaked roof of the red house between ours and Ethel, next door to Cranky, my walking neighbor. With her lovely sewing skills, she’s embroidered me a fox potholder, embellishing it with a carrot. I’m blessed to have good neighbors. We both watch the newcomer cautiously. How will he fit in?
Like lead in a pencil, he squeezes his dark body into a wooden crevice we didn’t know existed in the attic of the red house. When not shoving snippets of pine twigs or grass into the opening, he stands on the roof’s peak and twirls his wings like a mechanical wind-up bird. He clicks and cries and steps a few dance moves. The sun catches iridescent colors, and we realize a starling has arrived in the ‘hood.
There go the property values.
Starlings are not native to the US. Like most Americans who are also not indigenous, the birds arrived on boats from Europe. Also, like those who colonize from elsewhere, they bully others out of their native homes. Starlings also prefer the crevices woodpeckers seek. In short order, Whirlygig comes knocking on the new residence of the northern flickers.
For two days, I’ve held my breath. Who will win the hole in the maple? Starlings have forced woodpeckers to delay breeding. A compromise of sorts. But northern flickers are also migrators, unlike their downy, red-headed and piliated cousins. Therefore they must compete and not delay.
Whirlygig is dogged in his dance. The moment he catches the flicker couple away, he flies from the roof of the red house into the hole in the maple. He throws out their nesting material and my writer’s mind shifts to what if…What if squatters took over your home? What if a couple went out to buy groceries and returned to an aggressor throwing out their bed and shoes?
In the end, aggression wins. It seems unjust, and I recognize how easy it is to villainize starlings. They are the loud, boisterous neighbors no one wants. Whirlygig is the equivalent of the guy mowing the lawn without a shirt (oh, wait, that’s the Hub). Starlings are the noisy college frat boys sitting on their roof drinking beer. Uncouth, but does it really mean the values sink?
My new bird-feeders overflow with promise of more than starlings. An American goldfinch and a rose-headed house finch have made introductions. The jay down the street continues to squawk. A black and white woodpecker crawled all over the backside of Cranky’s house carefully pecking between the slates for insects. It a diverse neighborhood despite the obnoxious bird and his new bride.
Warmer days, longer sunlight and the absence of snow brings out the two and four-legged neighbors, too. Cranky and I continue our walks, exploring the flowers of our neighborhood, gossiping about Whirlygig. It’s the first time I’ve had a fellow nature-lover for a neighbor. Walks end up with us standing in other people’s yards inspecting flowers or gawking up into tree limbs to identify a bird.
Yesterday, we spotted a trail that led off the road into the woods. A hand-painted sign warned that bridges were unstable. Oh, how could we resist exploring? We walked through trees waving miniature flags not yet full leaves. Cranky taught me to smell the leaves to aid identification. We scanned birch for conks of chaga, a medicinal fungus. We admired trout lilies and spotted early sprouts of trillium.
Then I saw the pile of rocks.
It was old, perhaps from mining days or maybe this hilltop meadow was once pastured. Whatever its purpose someone moved a lot of stones. I suggested that it was a farm with ten children and the kids grew up picking rocks from the fields. We both hoped it had nothing to do with mines for we had left the beaten path. I began to scope for shafts.
At one point we crossed a bog (no unstable bridge in sight). I was certain the snowmobile trail was just ahead, and we could catch that and walk back into town. On the edge of the bog, Cranky spotted dark green bushes with salmon-colored berries. She plucked one and said, “Eat this.” Whether or not this was a starling-like tactic to rid the neighborhood of me, I thought nothing of it and popped the berry in my mouth.
Cranky smiled and said, “Taste the wintergreen?”
I said, “No.”
She frowned and said, “Spit it out!”
We both laughed. She thought she was giving me wintergreen. We’re not sure what it was, but wintergreen it was not. Neighbors can be trusting in that way. We found our way back, and I never suffered for the nibble of an unknown spring berry. Closer to home we met more dogs and neighbors. Everyone is raking grit out of the front lawns, and a few real estate signs have appeared.
To me, the value is high, starlings and all.
This weekend marks my last as age 50. On Friday I go out with my fellow veteran spouses. I order my birthday cake and will buy brats and champagne for my Sunday party. On Saturday morning I’ll head to a local cemetery with a Wounded Warrior Sister and plant American flags on the graves of soldiers for Memorial Day. That evening, I’m attending a dance performance at Michigan Tech. My daughter’s dance classes are in the show.
Sunday is the big shin-dig at Calumet Waterworks (McLain cost too much, and Calumet reserves it’s picnic shelter for free). I like CWW better for hunting rocks. I’m bringing all the binoculars, too. C Jai Ferry is planning to drive all the way from Nebraska to celebrate. And on Monday we’ll go out to Gemminani’s, the Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. They give out free dinners on your birthday, and I turn 51 on Monday.
All in all, life is good. You can’t avoid the starlings or mistaken berries along the way, but you can make the best of what you have where you are and who you meet.
May 17, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about property values. Perhaps its a home, business or pencil museum. What makes them go up or down? Go where the prompt leads.
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Value in the Balance (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“Property values go up the more improvements we make.” Cobb replaced his years of responsibility as a sheriff with a drive to improve every inch of Rock Creek Station.
Sarah unpacked the latest freight of sundries from St. Louis While Cobb sawed planks for the new schoolhouse. The wood gleamed gold like the barn, toll booth, toll bridge, post office, eastside station and horse stables. The store Sarah operated had gray wood, showing its age. Sarah calculated Cobbs improvements and noted that it added up to more debt that income.
“Those values had better go up soon,” she muttered.