For the Birds Radio Program: House Karma
When Russ and I moved to Duluth 20 years ago, we had the daunting task of finding a house that we could afford. Russ moved here in January 1981, and found a temporary place we could rent, but when I arrived in March we got serious about looking for something more permanent. I was expecting our first baby, and something deep in my bones needed to nest and settle in before the baby was born. Russ had helped his parents with a lot of home repairs and construction, and his dad was an electrician; so he knew a lot about what to look for in a house. I only cared about two things–the house for me needed a good yard for birds, and windows where I could enjoy those birds from inside as well as out.
One morning when I was taking a walk in the Lakeside neighborhood, I noticed a street sign that read “Peabody Street.” Most people think of the Bullwinkle Show’s Mr. Peabody when they see the word, but I instantly thought of White-throated Sparrows, the birds that supposedly sing “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” It was a sign–figuratively as well as literally–and that was all I needed to tum down the street.
My part of Lakeside isn’t a fancy neighborhood–the houses are simple cape cods and bungalows. Two blocks down, I came to a house that stood out from the rest literally. It was built a decade or two before the rest of the houses on the block–long before the street was paved–and stood far forward, giving it a very small front yard and an enormous backyard. And the backyard was even bigger because it was on a corner lot. The yard was absolutely perfect. Two mountain ash trees and a beautiful flowering crab would certainly attract migrating robins and Cedar Waxwings, wintering Bohemian Waxwings, and stray Townsend’s Solitaire or two.
A couple of maple trees and a big box elder would bring in Evening Grosbeaks–as a matter of fact, a big flock of them sat in the branches as I stood there on the sidewalk. The front yard across the street had a nice big elm–that would bring in orioles. A couple of nice aspens would feed Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and all the little birds that depend on sapsuckers during migration–hummingbirds, kinglets, warblers, phoebes, and more. A balsam tree draped with Usnea lichen could theoretically provide nesting for a pair of Northern Parulas. I didn’t know exactly who the ash tree and red maple would attract, but knew they would be good for someone out there. There were several spruces, including a huge one in the back yard that I fell in love with it. And beyond it in the distance, I could see a rocky ridge-this neighborhood stood just beneath Hawk Ridge. I’d be able to watch hawk migration right from the yard.
Of all the houses on the street, this one stood out in another way, too: it had a for sale sign in the front yard. It was run-down enough to be affordable without seeming to require any urgent major repairs. When I brought Russ to see it, he didn’t see all the wonderful possibilities, but his practical side did see that it was affordable and a good choice for a growing family. Although it was a tiny bungalow, it had five bedrooms-dormers in the attic had added three tiny bedrooms to the two original ones downstairs. We made a bid and suddenly were committed. The day we closed, we were nervous–somehow basing the whole decision on a street sign and some trees suddenly seemed foolish.
Moving day arrived, and as we carried in the first load of boxes, I looked up and there, above my head, was a Bald Eagle circling, the sun giving his white head and tail a lovely glow in the blue sky. He looked down on us, and something deep in his yellow eyes reassured me. It was the last sign I needed to be absolutely certain. We had come home.