I moved, from a big dark apartment that I liked in Brooklyn to a big dark house that I hate in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. Clarification: I like both Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley.
My new (temporary!) house has sulfur water. For the unbaptized, sulfur water smells like rotten eggs. Which means every drop of water I use is a negotiation on whether I need to use it. Wash my hands after handling ground meat? I guess so. Rinsing tomatoes and apples before eating? Not anymore. I let flowers die because I don’t want to smell the sitting sulfur water in the vase, but also don’t want to waste the bottled water on keeping them alive.
I have no friends here. Except for the birds.
Two of my bird friends I brought with me. My two parakeets, Tickles and Dusty. They love it here. They didn’t have windows before and now they do, a big one. Sunlight, all day every day, except for the week we moved here, when it rained every day, all day. Tickles has always been friendly and generous, so this transition was easy for him, like any transition for him. Dusty, who’s five, is easily frightened and unfriendly and stays in his cage despite being encouraged to fly. Well, he used to. Now he flies around all the time, even to land on my knee, a first. I didn’t dare move when he did this, not even to take an Instagram picture. Dusty preened Tickles the other day, another first. Before that, it was always Tickles who preened Dusty.
I won’t lie. I’m waiting for my own metamorphosis into social animal.
But for now all I have are birds. There’s the usual: cardinals, chicadees, titmice (titmouses?), mourning doves. Red-winged blackbirds in droves, grackles in floods, brown-headed cowbirds by the handfuls. Goldfinches and house finches and a purple finch too. A downy woodpecker twice a day. A wild turkey at the edge of the property.
My new neighbors moved in when I did, two eastern phoebes who built a nest in our eave. They’re small, an underwhelming grayish brown, and I imagine they are here because they think I am sweet. I like them best.
I was excited, maybe thrilled, to see a brown thrasher, which my bird app says is uncommon, and white-crowned sparrows, which my bird app says is rare. Though I’ve seen the white-crowned sparrows every day, so they must really like me.
The misnomered red-bellied woodpecker visits too, as do the catbirds and blue jays, chipping sparrows and song sparrows. When I go for my walks, down those lonesome country roads, robins follow from telephone wire to fence post, making sure I don’t get lost.
Just today, for the first time, I saw a common yellowthroat and an eastern wood peewee.
There’s a sanctuary close by, an old airfield, that bobolinks and kingbirds party on, and I’m invited but only allowed on the unprotected pathways. I’ve been here before, metaphorically, at readings in New York where I didn’t know anyone and sat in the corner as I watched revelry unfold around me.
So much is different for me here. I own a car for the first time in my life. I have a view of a mountain ridge and a view of a vineyard. I look forward to phone calls.
When I first moved in I had a celebrity sighting of two indigo buntings, in full mating regalia, which led me to believe that seeing spectacular birds was going to be an everyday effortless occurrence. They haven’t been back.
So some things are the same. In New York, every few years there was a mass exodus, friends would leave for San Francisco or Portland. Now they leave for L.A. Every time I went to a goodbye party I thought, this will never be me. I’m never leaving. But here I am, left. I didn’t even throw myself a goodbye party.
That first week here, I saw northern flickers (a woodpecker who hangs out on the ground) in the backyard. They have adorable red cheeks and black half-moons just below their throats. They were here for a few days and now they’re unceremoniously gone. I haven’t seen them, and I look, while I pour bottled water into my parakeets’ bowls.
After twenty years, Jane Liddle has gone back home to the Hudson Valley. Her short-story collection Murder was published by 421 Atlanta in March 2016. She is currently working on a novel and a book about daydreams. You can find her on Twitter @janeriddle and liddlejane.tumblr.com. She is a friend to birds.