Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Joys of Home Ownership

I grew up in a rowhouse in southern Brooklyn. When my husband and I got our first place it was the lower apartment in a two-family house in Queens, city of New York. We had a lovely landlady and lived in that place for 13 years despite the car horns, noise and cooking smells from the Greek neighbors and occasional gunshots. We were all jammed together.

We attempted to find a house we could afford several times but it was only after seeing a friend's condo that it occurred to us to find another apartment in an area less urban where we could keep a car. That led us to the small New Jersey town we live in now, another two-family house where we lived for 11 months and had the landlord from Hell.

Backyard, May 2015 (Margo D. Beller)
But we now also had a car and it was when MH decided to go down a small street he'd never traveled before that we found the house we wound up buying. We've lived here over 20 years.

I have yet to fully get used to the suburban lifestyle and mores after growing up in what geographically is considered "the city" but in reality was as much of a suburb as where I am now but with smaller plots. I do not understand paying someone to mow a lawn every week whether it needs it or not. (MH does our lawn every few weeks and it is greener than our neighbors', who get the dust on their lawns thrown up weekly.)

But what I liked immediately is that except for those times when neighbors had loud friends and families over to their backyard pools or patios, overused their leaf blowers or left their barking dogs out too long, this place is less trafficked, more quiet and, most important, my space.

The joys of home ownership.

Except when something goes wrong.

The picture above shows one such recent example. We went from a cold and damp winter in 2014 to a few days of spring in 2015 before a sudden jump into summer about a month early. Thanks to climate change, we have been dryer in this part of the country, although not nearly as bad as what is seen in the western U.S. But what I have noticed is we'll go weeks without rain and then there will either be a small, scattered shower in my area or a deluge, getting weeks of rain at once.

So the other week we got some rain for a few minutes for the first time in a long time. Then, during the night, there must've been another, stronger storm with high winds, and this hunk of maple was torn from the tree and deposited, luckily, in the corner of my yard, on the other side of the tree from my compost pile and my neighbor's swing set. With MH's help we got it to the curb and I used my lopper to cut it off smaller branches and make the pieces more manageable for our town to pick up.

It is a small price to pay for our space, as was discovering a problem with the foundation that needed fixing and having the roof fixed to stop the leak in the front room.

House wren box, 2015 (Margo D. Beller)
It is a snug, secure house unlike that of the house for the wren I put up every year. The first house, which was a decorative birdhouse I thought too small for any occupant, crumpled after five years. I bought the house above. After a few years of use I found it on the ground after the chain snapped, possibly because something bigger than a house wren was atop it. I repaired and rehung the house and it has been in use ever since.

Since house wrens will make a nest in anything, I think the house is more secure. But is it more secure than the usual bird nest, whether on the ground or in a tree? One year I discovered a pair of Cooper's hawks built a nest in a tree several streets away that I could see from a particular part of my back yard. But we had a storm that year and the nest came down.

I have come upon other nests by accident. There was the hummingbird nest, a tiny cup of grass, that was at the thin end of a tree branch hanging over Great Brook in the Great Swamp. There was the hole in a side of a large backyard tree that was used by a screech owl in winter but in summer was rented by a pair of redbellied woodpeckers. There was the catbird nest behind one of my shrubs - only my watering got Mamma Catbird to leave and I found the nest. (After that I watered far more carefully.)

More recently I have found a titmouse nest - a hole high up in a tree that was likely made by a woodpecker for a roost one year and then abandoned. As with the other examples, the nest was found because the bird directed me to it, inadvertently. But other nests do not become apparent until the tree and shrub leaves come down and the nest becomes visible.

Nests are basic structures. Their main purpose is to provide a place for a bird to lay eggs, brood them until young are born and then raise them to feed themselves before letting them go off and perpetuate the species. Those nests are temporary structures.

Our houses are too, but we forget this. They are built on land denuded of trees and so have nothing to shade or hold the soil of our lawns. Older homes are frequently expanded for "family entertainment centers" (in my house it is still a den). They are bought and sold with regularity, depending on the going price. They are the focus of zoning battles and fights over increasing property taxes, which in New Jersey are used to pay for schools.

However, if an errant tree comes down or a Hurricane Sandy hits or flooding rains bring water up to the first floor ceiling or if "the big one" hits, even these "permanent" homes become temporary structures, too.

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