Monday, August 22, 2011


I have been thinking about fear lately.  Like most things, fear belongs on a continuum.  On one end there is the polite “fear” we experience when we say “I fear he isn’t home.  Can I take a message?”  Or the uneasy fear of self-loathing we get when we are forced to listen to John Mayer's album "Continuum".  And on the other end there is the fear of public speaking which many say is worse than their fear of death. (Raising my hand.)

In my last post I explored my fear of spiders.  On the continuum, I’d place my arachnophobia above my fear of dropping my keys into a storm water grate, but well below my lingering fear that someday I’ll show up for class with no clothes on.  Never mind the fact that I haven’t been in school for years

Although there are things that seem to be universally feared (toy clowns, being alone forever, and dentists), I believe that our fear is uniquely personal.  There’s always a reason for our fears.  My wife fears birds because of an incident that happened years ago.  From what I’ve pieced together, it sounds like some poor bird had the misfortune of entering her house through the chimney and flying around while my wife, a young girl at the time, and her mother ran about frantically screaming and waving tennis rackets at it.  At least that’s how I imagine the scene.  The point is, that's her personal reason for fearing birds.  I knew that about her but I totally miscalculated where on the continuum she ranked her ornithophobia.

You see, for years I’ve done everything I could to encourage birds to come into my yard.  I faithfully restock my bird feeder, I keep my fountain full and clean for them to use if they are brave enough, and I have refrained from using any chemicals that would harm them.  And they’ve thanked me by swarming my yard and dining on my seeds and hopefully my unwanted bugs.  At times, I can look out into my postage-stamp sized yard and count dozens of tweety birds, blue jays, and doves.  And I never once noticed my wife cowering in the corner when this happened.  Because she continued to bring home bags of bird seed for me I just figured her fear of birds only related to invasions of Hitchcockian proportions.

Early this spring I noticed that a sparrow kept flying up to the eaves in the front of our house.  I went to investigate one day and discovered that a screen beneath the eave had been pushed back allowing entrance into our attic.  The sparrow had decided it was a good place to make a nest and I didn’t mind.  After all, it’s not the kind of attic that is used to store old mementos.  It’s just for insulation, spider webs, and ghosts.
Broken attic screen and cobwebs.  Lovely, no?

Weeks or months passed (I wasn’t paying attention to how long) until one day I started noticing constant chirping.  It seemed that a couple eggs had hatched.  Again, a couple weeks went by (or maybe a month?) and I assume it was time for the birds to grow up and start taking care of themselves like every other responsible bird does.  But these birds were total slackers.  They were either too lazy to leave or were too dim-witted to figure out how.  Instead of leaving the nest via the convenient exit their mother had created for them, they decided to go through the attic to the other side of the house where the vents were securely fastened and not budging no matter how incessantly they chirped.  This went on for two days – I paid attention this time.  Midway through the second day I got a text from my wife in all capital letters which is like the modern day version of a parent using their child’s first, middle, and last name to get their attention.  “THERE ARE BIRDS LIVING IN OUR ATTIC.  YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF THIS.”  Well, yeah, there are birds living in our attic.  They’ve been up there for weeks (or months)!  I thought she knew this already.  I thought it didn’t bother her because she hadn’t said anything yet.  Apparently, when I told her “we have birds living in our attic” she just tuned me out because I was talking about the garden again and tuning me out is how she puts up with my barrage of useless-to-her information.        

When I arrived home from work a little while later, dinner was almost ready and it smelled so good that I just sort of forgot about the birds, the text message, and the fear continuum.  It was chow time! 

And then all hell broke loose.  As we ate, the chirping that we had been ignoring over the last few days changed.  Suddenly it sounded as if the birds had found their way inside and they had brought a megaphone with them.  They were that loud.  But not as loud as my wife’s silent glare.  Uh-oh.  I knew that glare was screaming “I TOLD YOU TO TAKE CARE OF THIS.”  So I went to investigate. 

In our hallway we have a whole-house fan.  I’m not sure how common these are in other parts of the world but the basic concept is that you have a big, loud fan that draws cool air through open windows in your house and cycles it through your attic.

Our lazy little birds were sitting on the attic-side of the fan chirping for help while their voices echoed off the metal of the vent. 

Not worried about anyone’s fear continuum (because they were just baby sparrows) I got a broom out and used it to push open the vents.  Too my surprise, one of the birds dropped right through and landed with a flurry of wings and screeches.  The flurry belonged to the birds.  The screeches were my wife’s. 

I decided that the best way to handle this would be to get a bucket and something flat to cover it with for a scoop and release.  But when I came back with them I couldn’t find the bird anywhere.  And then I heard the chirping in the attic again.  I concluded that the bird had somehow figured out how to fly and had pushed its way back into the safety of the attic.  A few minutes later I was in the attic, armed with a bucket, a piece of cardboard, and an iPhone flashlight app.  Sure enough, there was the bird sitting on top of the fan.  I was able to scoop him up pretty easily and take him outside to dump him in a place where my dog wouldn’t just eat him.    

On my way to the release point, I passed my wife who had retreated to the safety of the yard throughout this event.  I remember thinking how I must have looked like her knight in shining armor as I carried away her great fear in a bucket.  Men reading this are probably nodding their heads while the women are shaking their heads with a knowing look of pity on their faces. 

For the male readers I should probably spell it out.  See, it turns out that when I came home I was expected to take care of the birds right away.  I had chosen to tend to my fear of being hungry over tending to my wife’s fear of birds in the house.  I apologized.  Although I felt I had taken care of it, her point that I had done it on my time and in response to how I measured the situation was well taken. 

But at least it was all done and we could move on.  Now that I had cleared the attic I could go fix the screens and that would be the end of it. 

Days passed with no more chirping.  The birds had moved on.

The ensuing silence was filled, however, with the unmistakable smell of rot.  “Oh no,” I thought, “I missed one and that poor bird finally died in the attic.”  I almost wish that had been the case.  As my wife discovered a day or two after we both discovered the smell, neither me nor my dog are very good trackers.  That bird that initially fell through the fan that I couldn’t find that I just assumed had learned to fly?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure it didn’t find its way back into the attic.  It died on the floor of our guest room. 

You know what else is scary?  Maggots . . . 


  1. Good story. Well except the end. :) Kept my attention though.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Oh no! Had to be the guest room to boot!!!

  3. A dead bird in the guest room? What a sad way to die! We had bats in our attic walls in an old house (1895) that we once lived in and when one took a wrong turn and ended up in our attic (finished w/20 ft ceiling and used as living space) I could hear my husbands screams two floors down. I ran upstairs and found the terrified bat clinging to the side of the chimney. I threw my sweatshirt over it, scooped it up, and threw it outside. Bats and birds aren't scary. But maggots? Gross!!

  4. Maggots are yucky! Poor sparrow. Poor wife.

  5. I have added you to my blog list. I really only add people whose blogs I really love. Thank you for an entertaining read tonight,

  6. Thank you all for reading my long post!

    Casa - I bet your husband loves it when you share that story! Haha. I've had a few encounters with bats too.

    Erin - Wow, thank you so much for the compliment of adding me to your blog list. That's very encouraging to me.

  7. Dear Chad, Oh, so funny! Although I don't think your wife thinks its amusing. Glad I found your blog through Donna (Green Apples). P.

  8. Pam, you are right about that. I showed my wife what I had written before posting it here so I could get her approval. She only agreed to let me post this if I promised to tell her when people commented on it and what they were saying. I think she was afraid we would all be laughing at her and she wouldn't be able to defend herself.

    Now I really need to get busy changing my blog settings so a certain person in my household can't comment . . .