My husband, Joel, pedals ahead on the bike path, determined to log fifteen miles. Wind
skirts the tail of my cotton top, and bugs flick my arm.
The paved trail is like the street where we live, well-traveled and forty-years-familiar. We
know where the bumps lie and where we can coast.
A few miles into our ride, Joel points. “Look, bluebirds.”
Two Eastern bluebirds perch on the roof of a rough-hewn box. Bride and groom face
each other like figures atop a wedding cake. A vibrant blue feathers the male’s head, back, and
wings. Through a tiny hole in the five-inch box, the couple has tucked fine grass or pine needles.
If they are lucky, hatchlings curl inside powder blue shells, soon to emerge naked and blind. Up
to ninety-five percent of bluebirds mate for life.
The rustic birdhouse, attached to a six-foot steel pole, has been battered by wind and rain.
It’s perfect for these lovebirds. As cavity nesters, they need an enclosed space, sometimes
created by woodpeckers in trees or posts.
When farmers replaced aging posts with metal stakes, the bluebird population declined.
But bird lovers invented a solution: handcrafted boxes. One Wisconsinite installed four thousand.
On the bike path, bluebird fans have set up boxes every one-hundred feet. They remind me of a
street in our town where Habitat for Humanity erected a stretch of people homes.
We cycle past a flat grassy cemetery where ashen-gray rectangles echo row after row. A
different kind of home.
We spy fishermen casting, swimmers splashing, and cyclists lazing under a gazebo, their
ten-speeds tilted in the grass.
We navigate an urban forest thick with the scent of damp leaves and dirt. Above,
birdsong flutters the foliage. Joel gestures to a dense grove. “The homeless have a camp in
there.” But it’s all shadows, the itinerants invisible.
Back at the car, our miles complete, Joel racks our bikes. From the driver’s seat, he tells
me of his afternoon plan: stack firewood, mow grass, fix our leaky faucet.
While he drives, I think about the pond. The gazebo. The cemetery. The bluebird trail.
Each a refuge for fish and geese, park visitors, the deceased, and once-endangered bluebirds.
Who built these shelters? Who found wood and nails, or water, or ground, and made each
dwelling? Of course, home has more to do with those inside. But maybe these builders deserve
credit too. What would home be, without first the house?
The car knows its way to our footprint, its scent of wood shavings and yeast, its whir of
refrigerator belts and furnace fans.
I head to the kitchen to wash greens, chop chives, and slice bread. Joel stays in the garage
to suspend our bikes upside down, catching each wheel on the hooks he installed.
I lift salad and bread to the scarred oak table Joel made, each dent and scrape a word in
our story. Of two daughters now grown, of parents gone, of grandchildren arriving. “Let’s eat,” I
Our home is not high-end, or set on a perfect plot, or flawlessly furnished, but like the
table, filled with flaws and imperfections. Perhaps it is not unlike the bluebird house or the pond
or the gazebo—but this builder was Joel.
Our meal is simple. It tastes like a walk in the neighborhood, a book by the fire. We talk
about our bike ride and plan the next one.
Outside the glass patio door, a pair of cardinals, one bright red, the other rusty-brown, flit
through our apple trees. Cheer, cheer, cheer, they call through the branches. True to their breed,
they rejected a birdhouse and built their nest in a shrub. They will likely hatch a brood, two or
three in their clutch, and together raise their young. When snow and freezing temperatures blow,
they won’t migrate, but for whatever winter brings, rely on each other to make their home a haven.
Nancy Jorgensen is a Wisconsin writer, educator, and musician. Her most recent book, a middle-grade/young adult sports biography, was released in October 2022: Gwen Jorgensen: USA’s First Olympic Gold Medal Triathlete. Her essays about music, equality, family, aging, and education appear in Ruminate, River Teeth, Wisconsin Public Radio, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. More information at NancyJorgensen.weebly.com