We usually have no neighbours. That’s probably a good thing.
Just across the door yard at Cleveland Place we have the United Church of Canada, with its postage-stamp parking lot and modest stained glass windows. Since it was sold last summer, it’s not technically even a church anymore, so it stands empty. On our other side is “the old Kierstead house.” It’s long vacated by the original owners, and now owned by Parks Canada to house seasonal employees or researchers conducting their studies for nearby Fundy National Park.
Several years ago, it housed a few scientists studying the habits of the flying squirrel. We'd often find stray bits of fluffy nesting materials or empty two-litre milk cartons the researchers had constructed for their nests. On more than one occasion we spied a Parks Canada uniform scurrying across the Cleveland Place gardens wielding a contraption that looked like a 1950s TV antenna. Apparently, there were a few micro-chipped squirrel escapees that favoured our grand maple trees to the “spartan carton” homes their researchers were providing for them.
We'd become accustomed to the comings and goings of our short-term neighbours, and would often get to know them. A welcoming basket of muffins or cookies, a ladder provided for one who'd forgotten a house key but left a window open – the neighbourly acts one would expect from time to time.
One late summer we were surprised by the Parks Canada grounds crew out early in the morning with chain saws and a wood chipper attending to a large evergreen that stood tall between their house and ours. Carefully but with surprising speed, they cut down this natural privacy barrier on the property line, creating a sudden void. Now the two-storey house was revealed and its white siding blankly stared back at us. From my pantry window, instead of the green branches of a stately pine, I could see right through the window into the house next door. I felt sad for the loss and the tree's absence. The crew explained that the overgrown tree threatened both houses should it come down in bad weather, and assured us a replacement tree would be planted in the spring. Still – it had had personality, and it housed pretty little birds.
Fall passed, winter blew, and spring arrived. Missing the birds, we erected a tall 4x4 post to hang a variety of feeders and hopefully attract these colourful visitors back to my pantry window viewing area. And come back they did. So many kinds that I got a birding book ---how handy to have a bookshop attached to our kitchen -- so I could try to identify them. Black-capped chickadees, yellow finches, loud and domineering blue jays, grackles, starlings, cedar waxwings, and loads of pigeons.
The pigeons practically took over the feeders, and it became annoying. I found them fat, dull, and bullying, they scared away the other prettier birds and they tromped down the grass. I started to become a bird racist. I’d get angry. When they gathered in groups I'd rap on the window and shout, "Get off my lawn!" and they'd sullenly take off, but then quickly and defiantly return.
I changed the feed and seed, hoping they'd take their dining preferences elsewhere. I wanted to see the pretty colourful feathers and cheerful little birdies at my window, but when the pigeons were around, the others would stay clear.
I shared my frustrations with Stephen. He listened patiently as always, but offered no advice or ideas.
Then one early summer morning, I had just started to get the breakfast routine going when I saw Stephen already standing sleepily in the middle of the pantry, with a steaming cup of coffee in hand, wearing just his boxer shorts. Bleary and bare-chested, he stood waving his free arm with wide sweeping and jabbing gestures, and swinging his coffee cup up and around slightly more carefully, with an expression of seething anger.
Fascinated and a little concerned, I watched this display for a few moments wondering what was going on.
Then I laughed as it dawned on me just what he was doing – he was shooing away my unwelcome pigeons. My quick burst of laughter startled him just the way he’d hoped to startle the pigeons. But the main reason I laughed was that he’d clearly forgotten that this summer we had a new group of neighbours in the Parks Canada house … and the big tree was gone.
No longer hidden behind its wide and thick evergreen boughs, there he was with all his naked hairy-chestedness in full view, grimacing, gesturing angrily, silently shouting at the window for who knows how long. I reminded him about the tree's absence and our new summer neighbours. We'll never know if they got a show that morning – but we never exchanged goodies that summer, either. Coincidence?