Seriously Confused

BlueBirds-2016For three days now, a pair of bluebirds (pictured) has been trying to get into our house. It began with the male flying into the picture window. Then he did it again. And again. And then both of them were hanging out at the window, sometimes scoping out the situation from the shepherd’s crook that will soon hold the hummingbird feeder, sometimes hanging out by the window, sometimes bumping it again (just to be sure), and sometimes just sitting on the sill and peering inside. Despite my tapping the glass from the inside and even with Mona’s lunging at them, they kept coming back. On the second day, they discovered the picture window at the back of the house and alternated entry attempts front and rear.

We have, in short, a seriously confused pair of bluebirds. At times, especially when they are sitting on the sill, as in the photo, one can almost imagine one saying to the other, “That last house was so small. You promised a bigger one next time. This is the one I want.” To which the exasperated mate replies, “Yes, dear. If you can get us through this force field, we can move in today.”

We believe this is the pair that had inhabited our bluebird house until they were recently displaced by a wren. The wren is now gone, the nest removed, and the house ready for bluebird occupancy once again. But, Nancy’s internet research seems to suggest, the birds were spooked by the invader and became hyper-vigilant against all invaders, including their own reflections in our windows. Today, Nancy bought some mealworms and placed them below the bluebird house, where the pair promptly found them and began feasting. This may have effected a reset; this afternoon, they had abandoned our windows and were checking out the bird box.

It makes me wonder about the places in my own life where I have gone a little crazy, missing the obvious way forward, needing a reset. Mealworms, anyone?


Once upon a time, I was picking up a washing machine for the local agency that passes used furniture on to those in need. For some reason, my partner and I drove separately—two guys in two trucks, but not a tool between us. The apartment-dwelling donor was also tool-less. We could not get the water hoses off barehanded and spent much of an hour chasing down a pair of pliers to do the job. I am determined that will not happen again. All our vehicles have at least a rudimentary tool kit.

I tend to do odd jobs wherever I go: parents, church, work (before I retired). As time goes on, my in-truck tool bag gets heavier and more eclectic. Besides the usual screwdrivers and pliers and wrenches, I have work gloves and disposable latex gloves. Electrical tape. Teflon plumbing tape. A circuit tester. A torpedo level. A line level and masons’ nylon string. A 50’ measuring tape. Heavy duty scissors. Eyeglass screwdrivers. Ear plugs. Disposable dust masks. Garden shears. Stakes for marking and laying out. These days there is barely room for the groceries behind the seats of my little extended cab pickup.

When I began woodworking, I had never used a power tool except a drill. A circular saw was a frightening thing to me. So, being scared, cheap, and contrarian, I decided that my new hobby would be hand tools only.

During this hand-tools-only phase, I ripped two-inch rock maple with a panel saw, smoothed a glued-up table top with plane and cabinet scraper, cut blind mitered finger joints with back saw and chisel. I no longer have the patience for such tasks, and long ago overcame my queasiness about power tools. But those formative experiences leave me awed when I consider the stamina and skill of the lumberjacks and pit sawyers and cabinet makers of our pre-industrial past. Power tools make it all too easy to forget.

Using hand tools is one way to learn humility. In an earlier post, I mentioned that the seemingly healthy pines in my woods tend to fall over. But we had one that died standing. It had always had a significant lean and, a number of years after its death-by-pine-bark-beetle, was looking half-rotted and hazardous. For safety, I decided to drop it. Being one of the few people in Tennessee who does not own a chain saw, and at the same time being the proud possessor of my grandfather’s two-man crosscut, I gathered my number two son and the old crosscut, and we laid into that “rotted” trunk.  Inside, we found a hard, seasoned core. It nearly defeated us.

In addition to my grandfather’s saw, I have acquired a few other antique hand tools. Most are still usable, and my hardware-loving wife allows them to be displayed in the house. Three wooden-bodied planes I found at a flea market are in pretty rough shape, yet I have been able to make shavings with two of them. The left-handed half-hatchet my brother found for me feels custom made for my hand. The balance scale my other grandfather used for weighing cotton bales would be usable, if I had a beam to hang it from and something heavy to weigh. My draw knife reminds me of the one my father taught me to use as we stripped the bark off some pine poles to make a ladder.

Don’t get me wrong. I have grown to love power tools. My table saw and cordless drill/driver seem nearly indispensable now, and there is a Tim-the-Toolman moment each time I get a chance to use the hammer drill or reciprocating saw. I’d like a drill press, and Nancy dreams of a band saw, although we’d have to acquire a larger shop first.

However, I have discovered that more and bigger tools are not always the answer. Over the winter, we had to have some trenches cut through my in-laws’ yard. I scattered some annual rye grass seed and some straw, waiting for the backfill to settle. Now it is time to re-level the yard and get some permanent grass growing. So earlier this week, I rented a small tracked machine, the kind that you stand on the back of and pretend to be a heavy equipment operator. I imagined using it like a dozer, remembering how loose the soil was when the trencher got through with it. Silly me. It turns out my in-laws’ yard is made of brick-in-training, which did more than “settle.” “Set up” is, I think, a closer description. Fortunately, we haven’t yet been through the kiln of August.

The solution? A tiller. What the one-ton machine couldn’t do, the 50-pound tiller could. Set the spike and let it chew. Reset and repeat.

Even my beloved drill/driver is sometimes more than enough. After too many trips to retrieve it from the shop, just to make a hole for a cup hook, I have been lusting for a set of gimlets to keep in the house. Just what I need—more tools.

So Proud

My home state of Tennessee is on the verge of naming the Bible as the State Book. That is great! Didn’t Jesus advocate a wall around Samaria, to keep the infidels out? Didn’t he tell the Syrophoenician woman to go back to Syrophoenicia and take her brood with her? Didn’t he chide the disciples for not being armed, leaving all the fighting to Peter at the Battle of Gethsemane? From the cross, didn’t he order his disciples to rough up the hecklers? Centuries before Jesus, didn’t the Bible tell the believers to send “the aliens in your midst” back out of your midst; to deny healthcare to the poor and the widows and the orphans; to discriminate against the outsider?

Now that our finest politicians are adopting these sound policies, it is time they acknowledged their debt to Biblical teachings. My state, Tennessee, is in the vanguard. I am so proud!