There is a fat bluebird outside my office window. The shepherd’s hook on which he perches shakes under his weight. He’s eyeing the feeder that hangs below, recently filled to brimming with seeds. My writing space is in the front of our house. It’s a house we bought so that my husband could work from home–his office is tucked into the back, on the exact opposite side from where I sit, behind the garage and off the kitchen and laundry room. It has a door, but he can hear us moving around at meal times (and snack times, and washing-the-dishes times: so, all the time), and we can hear him pacing, his arms moving as he takes conference calls and leads presentations from his small space in this quiet suburb of a small city. I was lucky to commandeer the space in the front of the house–it’s a formal living room, closed off save for a narrow arched doorway to the front hall. I still haven’t painted it, though I’ve the color picked out. We hope to eventually knock a large hole in the wall to connect it to the family room, to open the space and let in more light and let the house breathe a bit. But right now, I’m here in this enclosed, white room by myself. The children come to sit with me when they’re home. Cian will bring in his toys and play at my feet, chattering about the newest Batmo-spaceship he’s just built. My husband holds down the fort from the back, and I try my hardest to build my stories from here.
I have two windows that face the street and our front yard. I can see the young trees the developer planted there: two maples whose branches don’t seem strong enough yet to hold the birds that migrate through. I can see the neighbors walking their dogs (my own dog stares out the window at them, whining), and then the runners jog past, some athletic and quick with their practiced movements, flashing by once or twice on the same run, while I sit here on my chair, covered with a blanket, noise-canceling headphones covering my messy ponytail. My glasses are perched on my nose. I may work out later, after this. I watch a runner pick up speed.
And then there’s the bluebird. I had installed two bird feeders by the front corner of the house last year, right outside the window. I can’t see the feeders themselves from where I sit, but I can hear the chattering of the birds when they visit: bluebirds, finches, the occasional cardinal and his mate, sometimes sparrows, who bully the others out of their way. I can see them when they fly in, perch on the top of the metal poles, fight with each other for a place at the feeder. Their singsong makes me happy. If I close my eyes I can pretend that I’m somewhere quiet, somewhere deep in nature, somewhere more vibrant and alive than this tidy suburban street in a neighborhood where every lovely house looks the exact same as the ones next to it. You never think of novels being written from suburban home offices, and yet…here I am, in my yoga pants, with my 5-year-old at my feet and a minivan parked in the garage. I will not complain about this contentment, this sameness. I simply fill the feeder when it runs empty, and return to my desk.
It’s the bluebirds that make me happiest. The cardinals, too. Their round bodies are full from the worms they find in the grass damp from the melting snow, from the feed that all of us have kept in our feeders, neighbors in our neat tracts of treeless land, luring the birds back to us the best way we know how.
We want their songs. We crave their color.
The bluebird leaps from the top of the pole and flies away, in search of more. The shepherd’s hook shakes in the bluebird’s wake, then stills.
I sit in my chair, and write.