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The Bird Houses of West Sacramento

I’m an old man in autumn with nothing much to do most days. Though I’ve nothing much to do I am given, thanks to today’s unrelenting algorithms of connectedness, far too much to think about that is of no concern to me in the first place. Today each one of all of these many useless and infuriating things vies to become THE thing I am supposed to think about when what I really should be thinking about is no thing. No thing at all. Just sort of being in the day and all that. Dharma bums on a long lunch break. That sort of retired languor. And so to ignore the myriad ghostly news monkies trying to climb on my back I go out.

That’s out. Out to lunch. Out to errands. Out. Out perhaps doing ho-hum things but out I must go. The best out of all is out for no reason. And of those outs, the very best going out remains when I go out for a drive. And so I did.

Great crisp golden ocher day with trees from an autumn oak’s burnt orange hand-sized leaves to the shimmering gold glowing coins of Ginko leaves. Heading out of Chico west on 32 towards the Sacramento River, olive and almond orchards flash past staccato in long diagonals.

Came to the River Road and turned south along the Sacramento River until Scotty’s Landing. Pulled into this dissolving dive bar and parked next to the Golf Cart that’s been up on blocks since LBJ was president. If you like dive bars, Scotty’s your huckleberry. Excellent cheeseburgers, great fries, cold Bud in the bottle. If you’ve grown particular there’s Bud Lite in the bottle. Out back of the bar, you can be the master of your riverside domain slumped in a bunch of PVC furniture placed next to a rail with a view of the slough; a slough where all is slowly, chairs and tables and you,  returning to the soil, declining into a bog. It’s a dive bar taking a dive. It’s perfect.

One Bud later back on the River Road a mile or so until West Sacramento that heads directly East back into Chico. Time to go home since the primary purpose of going out is to go home once you’ve arrived at out. Right? Right.

West Sacramento rolls east past orchards and then orchard businesses and then the outskirts of Chico and then into the neighborhoods and subdivisions and then past a half a mile of solid wooden fences with no breaks on the north side of the road. And then a birdhouse.

And then two birdhouses.

Then a cluster of fifteen. Then a run of ten, twenty, birdhouses then twenty five…

then a cluster of sixteen… and then one and then one followed by one, one, and two. That sort of random in placement and polish.

And then one more and another one and here’s a lady parked by the side of the road and it looks like she’s trying to glue a birdhouse to a wooden fence. She is…

I pull over. 

“Where did all these birdhouses come from?”

“Do you think this superglue is going to hold my birdhouse to the fence?”

“Doubt it m’am. Who did all these birdhouses?”

“Well, all sorts of people I guess. I just made this one last week but they’ve been here and growing for months now. Must be a hundred, hundred and a half.”

“Is there like a club of Birdhousers of Chico?”

“Not that I’ve heard. It was just somebody who did one. And then somebody else did another. Then others started appearing on this long-running fence. And then more came and now it seems to be just a thing. A fun thing. But look at this glue I don’t think it’s right.”

I look. She’s made a nice birdhouse but she doesn’t get how both surfaces have to meld in order for adhesives to work. “Nope. No shot. You need to get a hook and eye or something like that.”

“Oh. I was hoping to get it back on the fence without tools. It went up that way.”

“Came unstuck. Surfaces are too incompatibly porous. Hook and eye.”

I stroll along a good half-mile of fencing looking at these spontaneous examples of folk art spontaneously generated by people who do not know each other, people who didn’t have a meeting, people who didn’t take a vote or seek permission. People who just saw something wonderful and wanted to add to it and did it all on an obscure street in an obscure town somewhere in an obscure region of northern California.

People who knew a good idea when they saw it.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Michael Anderson November 25, 2021, 6:20 PM

    Not quite sure why Northern Californians are so crazy about birdhouses, but there it is. My late father knocked together hundreds of them, all fancifully painted and decorated, and sold them at nurseries and craft shows from Chico to Yreka.

  • ghostsniper November 25, 2021, 7:16 PM

    “Buzzard’s gotta eat, same as the worms.”
    –outlaw josie wales, 1865

    The lay of the land between the house and my office is such that traversing it under ideal conditions is trepidatious. In icy weather it is dangerous. So 5 years ago I built a bridge between the 2 buildings and it is about 6 feet above the ground, with a set of stairs at midpoint that go down to the ground. The bridge and stairs are fully functional but I never trimmed the 16 supporting 4×4 PT posts nor installed finials. Couldn’t figure out what kind to make. Store bought stuff won’t due. The birds and other wildlife are big stuff for my wife and I and we spend a fair amount of coin and effort in supporting them here on our land and elsewhere. We use about 100lbs of black oil sunflower seeds per month, more in the winter. I have built and installed 40 bird and squirrel feeders and numerous birdhouses, bat houses and owl coves.

    Recently I decided on the finials. They will be birdhouses like no other. They will be designed by me in autocad and built by me in my workshop with left over/discarded wood from construction sites and raw wood I find or harvest on our land, and other materials. 16 of them. The aesthetics will span the spectrum, no 2 alike, they will be functional, and will last til way after I am gone.

    Every spring for the past 15 years since I started installing birdhouses and feeders numerous birds have taken up residence in them to start new families. In fact, while building the bridge a family of bluebirds took up residency in a house just a few feet from where I was building said bridge. If you know anything about bluebirds you know they are quite finicky and this was the very first time we saw them use one of our facilities. They were quite enamorred over the site they chose, so much so that the loud sounds of a compound miter saw and a paslode cordless framing nailer as well as countless streams of earth shaking profanity didn’t deter them. They produced 5 young and were on their way, and the bridgework continued until done. Except for the finials.

    In the 5 years since the bridge was completed I have pressure washed it 3 times and painted the railings and skirt boards twice and sanded and restained the deck boards twice. The birds, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, possoms and coons like a nice tidy ship. We aim to please. The allure of the birdhouse is not restricted to northen california.

  • Chico Ex-Pat November 25, 2021, 8:04 PM

    I spent half of my 65 years in Chico. I miss it now sometimes, but mostly for what it was. Fifteen or so years ago, I was on the phone with an old, old friend, she a native of Chico, Chico High School ’73. I asked her if she ever considered moving back. Her reply? “Chico is so ghetto.” Ten or so years later, I saw what she saw. Then The Fire hit on November 8, 2018, and that wonderful little town sunk into rampant crime, broken glass everywhere (not just the student area south of campus), the Professional Homeless oozed into Butte County from all points, all cheered on by the once goofy liberals who shed their disguises and showed their nasty communist side. The kids and grandkids, burned out of their home, showed up after enduring a ride no different than the many videos made that day by people in their cars who believed themselves dead too soon. They departed in early spring from our home for SIL’s mom in the Tacoma area, and from there they roadtripped, looking for that new place to call home. Landing in the Panhandle of the Gem State, they had a “Eureka!” moment. Inside a year, we followed at the beginning of the Scamdemic, and life is again being lived, very much so more fully.
    A shame, but we seem to have orbited in some of the same circles, though I’m sure we have never met. Please know that your writing occasionally of that wonderful town that was brings a smile to my heart. And Scotty’s? “This one time, when we were tubing down the river…”


    Chico Ex-Pat

  • gwbnyc November 25, 2021, 9:24 PM

    -I’d come up with the gelt for that deco number in a heartbeat.

  • Jim in Oxford November 26, 2021, 12:13 AM

    Everyone needs to get “out” sometime. The mind can be a terrible prison . . .
    OUT is, perhaps, the most therapeutic activity we can engage in — regardless of where the “out” is. We don’t have to like (or Love) everyone, but — and I speak from experience — being too hermitic is toxic, plain and simple. Especially with The Inter-net as your new little friend. Getting out and just seeing how everyone else lives their lives, decorates the myriad corners of their lives, gives perspective on just how hugely varied we humans are, and how beautiful people just want their life to be.
    A variant on The Birdhouses: my wife and I, a few years ago, traveled to Costa Rica with a small group. Had lunch with a small town village family in their home. Three generations of women ran the domicile while dad was at work. The mother had a hobby — constructing small dioramas of miniature life centered around Barbie Dolls. They were exquisite in their detail, wonderously creative in their “story”, and prominently displayed around the house. Snobs can deride this type of personal expression at their peril, but we thought they were delightful, complimented her as such, and she was just so sweetly humble and grateful.
    It was her way of getting “out”.

  • Doug Constance November 26, 2021, 7:03 AM
    • LP November 27, 2021, 2:15 PM

      You do see a lot of hand made birdhouses in Maine since it’s a rural state. That wall of birdhouses on that retaining wall on the highway in Moscow could never be used by birds because there are cars whizzing close by all day!! The real beauty of that road is the miles-long view of the lake as you drive along far above it.

  • Dirk November 26, 2021, 7:11 AM

    I think the bird houses are wonderful. Enjoy folks whom are creative in such ways, the kookier the bird house, the better.


  • Jack November 26, 2021, 7:26 AM

    Love the bird homes and palaces and I do think that the birds understand that they are created for them….a kind of extension of the expression of Matthew 6:26.

    I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Except the marxists, LGBTQ types and the BLM-Antifa thugs, etc.

  • veeze November 26, 2021, 7:42 AM

    Many places have done something similar with rocks. You pick up a biscuit-sized stone, take it home and decorate it, then leave it atop a mailbox or a gas pump for others to find.

  • James ONeil November 26, 2021, 10:36 AM

    Note to self; build a couple of bat houses to put up come spring.

    • ghostsniper November 26, 2021, 11:20 AM

      Good idea.
      Don’t forget to create a “collection station” at the bottom for that guano that is primo for the garden.

  • Rob Muir November 26, 2021, 11:20 AM

    Can we all agree that this type of beautiful and worthy project is far more likely to touch the soul than any of the utter nonsense that the nuts in DC dream up and finance with multi trillions of dollars?

    Now, I wish I had a wooden fence …

    • ghostsniper November 26, 2021, 11:24 AM

      If you can build a birdhouse you can build a fence.
      A fence doesn’t have to enclose anything.
      I built an 8′ long free standing fence at the far end of the yard.
      On it hangs a 200lb slice of 4″ thick oak that I use for throwing knives and hawks.
      It’s a purpose built fence and anything can be hung on it.

  • MollyG November 26, 2021, 6:59 PM

    That is some fine writing, Gerard.

  • Cascadian November 26, 2021, 10:40 PM

    If you are going to build a bird house, please give some consideration of the size of the entry hole, if you don’t get it right the birds you are trying to attract will reject it. Here is a guide based on the kind of bird you wish to attract https://www.thespruce.com/bird-house-hole-sizes-386641
    of course if attracting birds is not the primary purpose-as many of the examples seem to show then any old size hole will do.

    • ghostsniper November 27, 2021, 4:43 AM

      1-1/2″ dia will work for most wild birds.
      Owls will not go into a birdhouse.
      Squirrels will modify the hole to their need.
      So will woodpeckers.
      Bottom of hole should be 3″ above the top of the floor.