We found this Red-Bellied Woodpecker flat on his back on the driveway beside the garage. He was still alive, quite warm, though stunned and/or gravely injured. My husband Rob and I were both heartbroken; I was nearly in tears and I suspect he was, too (more about why, later). Because I spend so much time on the internet “for my job” Rob is somewhat skeptical of the actual productivity of all those hours spent staring at a monitor. In my efforts to justify said usefulness of all that time spent, I am continually cherry-picking and pointing out to him – interesting and useful information I have gleaned from my hours spent online. Birds are one of my favorite topics.
So, as Mr Woodpecker lay motionless in Rob’s hands I announce that I am going to post his picture to a Facebook bird group that I belong to, asking if anyone has any advice for care to help him revive. It really was the only thing I could do once we’d tucked him in a towel nest and placed him in a warm spot near the fireplace. Within minutes, my post had several helpful suggestions from bird lovers all over the state. Those who didn’t have advice instead offered words of encouragement and hope that he would survive. Info for local wildlife rehabbers was shared, too. A couple folks had asked for an update, so when it became apparent that the bird had expired I shared the sad news. Immediately, I was contacted by the director of the Gene Stratton Porter State Historic Site in Rome, Indiana.
Photographer Dave Fox and his wife Tracy live at the site; they take it’s care and custody very seriously. In an email, Dave informed me that they were working on an exhibit of Indiana’s Woodpeckers and Owls for display at the site – the Red-Bellied Woodpecker was one of the few specimens that they did NOT yet have. He told me that if I would immediately put our woodpecker’s body in a bag in the freezer that the skin would be preserved in such a manner that it could be taxidermied. Our woodpecker would live on in the museum exhibit! Within a few hours, they’d driven halfway across the state, picked up this unlikely (and precious) parcel, and Rob and I had made two new friends.
We felt a little silly telling them what a big deal this single bird’s death was to us, and went on to explain why as we looked out across our bird feeder-studded lawn to the pond surrounded with half-grown trees. You see, when we bought this farm, there was no pond and there were no trees. One of our first Christmases here saw the addition of a lovely cedar bird feeder. Rob fashioned a fancy hanger for it from an old hoof rasp and we proudly mounted it on a fence post next to the house. No birds came. We waited and waited, still no birds came. Our region is decidedly agricultural, and most farmers here see little value in harboring trees on their land; it wastes potential productive acreage. Nothing that interferes with tillage is safe. Our own house narrowly escaped this exact fate. In the years we’ve lived here we’ve watched as other nearby farmhouses, barns, woodlands and fencerows have been decimated.
Rob decided to do something about that. An avid fisherman, having a pond was a dream of his. “We should put a pond out there.” he’d said – pointing to the 12 acre cornfield next to our house.
Rob hauls heavy equipment for a living, and attends construction equipment auctions as part of his job. He began assembling a rag-tag bunch of cheap machines – worn out old things that still had a bit of life left in them. In the fall of 2004 they broke ground.
If you’ve ever watched a sculptor at work… it is an impressive sight. Watching someone sculpt the earth – on such a large scale – with tools that could overturn or get swallowed up by mud… well, that adds a whole new dimension to the project.
Our son Jordan was just 11 when they started, and he learned to run all those big earth moving machines – working alongside his dad until the project was finished the following fall. It wasn’t until the rains came and the thing filled up, that I truly saw what Rob was envisioning. All along, he kept pointing to these tiny orange flags…“that’s the water line, right there.” And, indeed, when the pond was full to the bottom of the spillway, the water just touched the base of those little orange flags. All the way around. I still find it amazing that it was that precise – when the work was done with huge, 30 ton machines.
A few years ago I created a memory book for them – a scrapbook of sorts – using all the photos that I took during (and after) the pond building project. You can see it in a magazine type format here. Keep in mind, this was the project of one man (on a limited budget), his little boy – and their BIG dream. Wow.
Around the pond we planted trees. Thousands of them. Tiny bare sticks with a wad of roots at one end, it was hard to imagine they’d ever amount to anything. It was easy enough to sit with the forester and devise a plan. Thousands of tiny stick-sized trees purchased from the state nursery are surprisingly inexpensive, so writing the check was easy, too. But the following spring when UPS brought the big brown paper-wrapped bundles, the time had come to DO something. And DO, we did. The initial planting was done by machine (whew) but after that the work was even harder. The poor little stick-trees didn’t stand a chance against all the dormant weed seeds laying in that fertile farm ground. Those years (and they were a LOT of them) were a battle as Rob logged hours with an arsenal of mowing devices; keeping the grass and weeds cleared so the trees could grow without competition. I would like to say that I helped with that part, but my tractor driving skills leave a lot to be desired. Stuffing a 5′ bush hog in a 6′ space between two fragile trees sounds easy enough, but doing it backwards with a foot on the brake, clutch, and throttle in blazing sun, a few THOUSAND times – well there are bound to be some casualties.
Since the casualties were almost always of my doing, I took on the task of replacing them. Every year I’d take inventory of what we’d lost and place yet another order for tiny stick-trees with the state nursery. Cruelly, these are only available in insanely large bundles, like 100 per specie, so I was always left with a lot of extras that I planted in other places all over the farm. There was no mechanized way to do this, it was just me and the shovel. Many times I questioned why we thought this was such a good idea in the first place.
After about 10 years of planting and mowing, and planting and mowing, and mowing… (you get the idea) we FINALLY started to see the birds. At first it was just yellow finches; a cheery, adaptable bird that we’d seen almost everywhere anyway. But then came the Robins, House Finches, Cardinals and Blue Jays; all congregating at the feeders we’d placed between the house and the pond, flanked by those ambitious little stick-trees who are now standing tall and proud. These are all extremely common species, most bird-watching folks wouldn’t get excited about seeing them, but we did. Their appearance represented a reward for doing something! As the trees have gotten taller and denser, the quantity and variety of birds has increased, with the woodpeckers being the latest to frequent the feeders.
It’s easy enough to wax philosophical and fall into a trap of negativity, though. What difference does a little pond and a few acres of trees in a corner of Madison County, Indiana make, anyway? A BIG difference in the lives of a handful of creatures. A difference in us, too, as we watch them and marvel in the beauty and variety of God’s creation. He could have just made a few kinds of birds – some to eat bugs, some to eat and spread seeds, some raptors to keep the rodents in check and called it good. But instead we were gifted with this wondrous variety.
I am awestruck whenever I think of it, and thanks to the internet (remember, I use it “for work”) I know I am not alone in my wonder. Everywhere I look, people are DOing things. Our new friends Dave and Tracy are doing more than just making sure things are in order at the Gene Stratton Porter site, they are reaching out to folks like me and educating the masses about Indiana birds and wildlife via Facebook. All over I see people doing their own thing for causes they feel strongly about. Photographers are taking poignant pictures of shelter dogs, other folks sharing and networking these pictures… It’s the same in the horse industry, unwanted horses are getting new jobs and homes via the doing of thousands of regular folks.
All this doing doesn’t just benefit animal and wildlife causes. I have a dear friend who vehemently opposes abortion. She doesn’t just sit around arguing with people on the internet about whether or not it should be allowed. She DOES something. Every week she goes to an abortion clinic and ministers/counsels the folks outside. Can you imagine how nice those people are to her? (probably not very) but she’s convicted to the cause, and because of Vicky and her cohorts there are many babies alive today who otherwise would not be.
And you don’t even have to make an effort to be clever in all this DOing. I didn’t feel a bit clever asking the bird group how to help a dying woodpecker, and the outcome wasn’t what we were hoping for, but having the bird’s body in a museum is a lot better than in a hole in the yard! One of my favorite bloggers Glennon Doyle Melton pulled herself from the dregs of depression and addiction with the mantra “Just show up, show up and DO the Next. Right. Thing.” She went on to become a best-selling author. Her TED talk is here.
In my case, however, all this DOing – even if it is seemingly easy stuff, has a way of making me feel discouraged when I look back at the end of the day and take stock on what actually got accomplished. That’s a good time for this reminder: “Know that you never get it done! And since you never get it done, it’s time to stop being unhappy about what’s undone, because most of it is undone! You are an eternal being. Most of it is undone. Instead of taking score about what’s been achieved — start feeling anticipation about what is still to arrive.” ~Abraham-Hicks
That sounds like a good plan to me. 🙂
Want to see what else happens?
Fun on the Farm Part 1 is here
The Epic Mess of Fixing the Fireplace is here
Tearing Down an Old Barn to Repurpose the Timbers in the house is here
The adventure of utilizing the first few timbers as a Fireplace Mantle is here
Utilizing more timbers in a big room upstairs – Of Trials and Strong Backs is here
No One Will Ever See It – an Adventure In Remodeling is here
We are still not finished, but you can see “The Aftermath” of one barn beam project here
Sometimes you have to look back… at scary pictures here
More looking back… Scary pictures, recycling and repurposing here
The surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise is here
Rob and the Emergency Media Stand is here