Jan 04

The deep-down urge to tinker

Tag: musingsjonny5waldman @ 6:21 pm

A few days into my 10-day Thanksgiving vacation a strange feeling arose. It was an urge to tinker. A force within wanted me to repair, fix, build. Of course, I’ve always been the restless type, never a fan of lazy vacations or Sunday movie marathons. But this urge was so physical — like I needed to hold tools in my hands lest they curl up and wither — that I had to wonder if the sailboat thing hadn’t changed me.

So I went with the urge. I climbed up onto the roof of my folks’ house and did some caulking. I fixed a part of the roof with my dad. I cleaned the gutters. But this was just regular maintenance. I still yearned to build something, and the opportunity that presented itself came in the shape of… a bird feeder.

Squirrels had been getting into the bird feeder for most of a year, and my mom wasn’t so keen on giving away all of her bird food to squirrels. She’d seen a "squirrel-proof" bird feeder for sale (for $180, you get a bird feeder with pressure-sensitive rails that spin under weight — yes, it’s an over-engineered, over-priced, battery-powered bird feeder) at the hardware store, and had a suspicion a similar contraption could be built for much less. But she was so busy. Could I help her?

I jumped at the opportunity. As a kid I’d build birdhouses and sold them throughout the neighborhood, and put up a bunch of bird feeders in that same backyard. I’d strung up a suet feeder on the old cherry tree, and watched downy, red-headed, red-bellied, and even pilieated woodpeckers pick away at it. Nuthatches, upside-down and murmuring, used to check it out. On the chestnut tree, I’d hung a couple types of bird feeders — one with thistle for goldfinches, and one with sunflower seeds for chickadees, titmice, juncos (they’d only eat the scraps off the ground), and any other curious birds.

Squirrels had been getting into the current bird feeder because it was too close to the trunk of the tree, and they were easily able to jump over to it for a full-on assault. So the first thing I did was climb 15-feet up the tree, reach as far out one limb as I could, and tie some twine on there. I took an old metal lid from a bucket in the basement, punched a hole in the center, and passed the twine through it. Then, using hangar wire (I thought squirrels might have a hard time clinging to metal wire), I hung the bird feeder from the twine.

It was late afternoon by the time I was done, and for some reason, I told my dad and sister to come check out my work — and just in time. We stood together in the den, peering through a pair of glass doors as the first squirrel came to investigate the new contraption.

This squirrel was nothing if not determined, and we were nothing if not amused by his determination. He spent half-an-hour trying to bypass my security system, to no avail. First, he climbed the tree and peered down the twine. Then he scampered down the tree, and over to the table and chairs on the patio, about 10-feet from the tree. He hopped around from chair to chair — up on his two hind legs — obviously contemplating a committing horizontal leap onto the bird feeder. But the distance was too great, so back he scampered up the tree, this time only half-way up. Perhaps a sideways, falling jump was in order? This, too, the squirrel rejected, and back down he came. This time, he scuttled onto the ground directly beneath the bird feeder, and stood up on his hind legs again as he peered up. Could he jump six feet — higher than many human high-jumpers — from a standing start? Surely not. Like I said, though, he was determined, so back he went to the chairs, and the branch, and the trunk, and the ground — as if further rodent-brain insights could be gained upon re-examination. During the squirrel’s investigation, my dad, sister, and I were cracking up — encouraging and taunting and insulting the squirrel much as a Red Sox fan would treat a Yankees pitcher.

I hate to be over-dramatic, but the tension of this tiny natural struggle made me think of a David Attenborough documentary, in which a wolf sneaks up on some cute, innocent hare, and you can’t help but be mesmerized by the battle of instincts about to unfold. In this case, I was rooting for the bird feeder, my dad (ever the contrarian) was rooting for the squirrel, and my sister was mostly laughing at us. That afternoon, at least, the bird feeder won. (A day later, presumably the same squirrel made a kamikazee leap onto the bird feeder, and snapped the twine that had held it up.)

At any rate, the project satisfied more than just the tinkerer in me. Designing a squirrel-proof bird feeder was a challenge: could I use a little ingenuity to outwit mother nature? In one sense, I was asking for trouble, inviting a problem my way. In another sense, I was looking for an opportunity to solve a problem. Such opportunities are often compelling: can I get up that rock? Can I get up that mountain? Can I get down that canyon? Can I run those 26 miles?

Or how about: Can I fix up an old sailboat and sail it around the world?

One Response to “The deep-down urge to tinker”

  1. Henry Barnes says:

    what we use at home as bird food are sunflower seeds, we have lots of sunflower at home-.-

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