For the Birds
by Paul V. Champion
There are only a few dozen riverfront houses in my hometown. They don't come on the market very often and when they do they are quickly snatched up. Last weekend, I saw a Craigslist posting for an estate sale and when I looked up the address I saw that it was one of the properties situated on "The Rum." I primarily went to see the house and yard; any "finds" from the sale would be a bonus. The house was obviously hand-built, almost all wood (a real fire trap), and stuffed with a lifetime of household goods, curios, and tools. The yard was overgrown with trees and the river was at the bottom of a steep bank, not visible from the house. Not the most inviting landscape, but it had potential. I picked up a few things at the sale but, for the most part, there was nothing special. Even the books, which I always find to be a good way to judge an estate, were bland. The most recent volume was a Sarah Palin bio. But one book did manage to catch my eye, a little 96 page treatise on the construction of birdhouses, written by a shop teacher in Illinois in the 1930s.
"Boys in the grades, junior high schools, bird clubs, and boy-scout troops have made birdhouses for several years according to the plans presented in this book. Many of the plans given have been worked out by the boys themselves, proving that this type of work is of great value in developing thinking workers. It shows that there is a desire on the part of many of us for a companionship with these feathered friends, and that this work stimulates interest in the aesthetic and economic value of bird life."
The book lists physical requirements for different species with suitable plans, and even has instructions on how to scavenge old fruit crates for free wood. It is definitely from another era—a time when a teen-age boy could be happy pursuing "aesthetic" pleasures.