Doug used to joke that "Bluebirding is my life." (Doug joked a lot about a lot of things.)
In reality, I knew Doug bluebirded for me.
|Doug setting up our bluebird trail at a closed landfill.|
|Doug installing more boxes on a cold February day. The expression is for effect - drama so I would be sure to appreciate his efforts.|
|Doug dancing (badly) at the NABS 2006 conference with TBS President Pauline Tom. I hope he didn't hurt anyone. (Also see his Singing in the Rain performance)|
|We saw two double rainbows that first week after the news. This one seems to be atop of the boxes we got from Dave Ahlgren. A tree swallow is soaring by on the left side of the frame.|
In 1998, a friend and colleague at Brookhaven National Laboratory gave me a bluebird nestbox, made by Boy Scouts in Long Island. I whined until Doug set it up in the backyard. (We have about 4 acres in rural Northeastern Connecticut.)
My home office upstairs looked down over the backyard and the box. The very first winter that I spent in Woodstock, I saw an Eastern Bluebird by the box! My first thought was to call Doug so he could see it too.
After that flash of blue, I was hooked. Doug and my sister once asked me why people get so goopy over bluebirds. I wrote an article about it for them.
I think Doug got a bit infected too. He would often call me outside to see the first migrants in February or a flock in the winter. While I was away on work travel, he kept our feeders stocked with mealworms for the backyard favorite blues. He did the messy part of homemade suet mixing. He learned to tell a House Wren from a Carolina Wren. He set and dragged my House Sparrow traps around. (House Sparrows are not native. They attack and kill bluebirds.) If he put a trap out himself and caught a male, he made sure that he got a "reward." When we caught some, he did the terminator thing for me before we delivered them to local raptor recovery center. He patiently listened to endless bluebird blather.
By 2010, we were up to almost 100 boxes on bluebird trails throughout town, including some abandoned boxes that we adopted and Doug repaired. Our goal was to fill the skies of the Quiet Corner with blue.
Doug was a busy guy - he never stopped working around "This Old House." Sometimes it was hard for him to take time away from chores and alternative fun options to accompany me while monitoring the trails. (It is important to check boxes 1-2 times a week during active nesting season, in order to protect the birds we invite to nest, to try to prevent problems, and to gather data.)
But I wanted to be with him as much as possible - away from the housework, sharing the outdoors together. I knew that life could be short. We had already spent too much time apart because of my early inability to make a commitment (he waited for me for eight years before I was ready to marry) and my job. I also relied heavily on his handyman skills. I can't swing a maul, and am useless with tools. Doug could fix just about anything.
So, I usually dragged him along with me. Generally, he was pretty accommodating. We would laugh, chat, and do errands along the way. We often enjoyed a little snack or picnic, complete with tasty beverage, in the park or up on the closed landfill where we maintained boxes. We also went to a number of bluebird conferences together. We combined those trips with other adventures.
During those conferences, others didn't get a chance to be with him much because I usually hogged him. I could never get enough time with him. He is the only person I have ever known that I never grew tired of.
Sometimes I did go out on the trails by myself, especially in the spring and summer of 2010, in order to lighten Doug's load. But it was always more fun to bluebird with him. He was incredibly supportive. He cheered me up many times when things went wrong. On occasion, he did trudge, especially after he went on blood pressure medication, which made him feel rotten. I teased him that he needed more "spring in his sproing" while we were out and about. He usually complied.
He and I travelled together one last time in the hearse on the way to the crematorium. I did not want him to go alone. The kind funeral director offered to drive us by one of our trails. There is a bluebird I call Brave Blue. This particular female always sits tightly on her eggs and young while I open the box. She is probably protecting her offspring from House Sparrows that abound in that area. Her photo (one of my all time favorites) graces the home page of my bluebird conservation website. That day, Brave Blue flew straight and true, right in front of the hearse as we passed by her box.
After we lost Doug, I considered abandoning my trails. But I realized that would be irresponsible. It would also mean giving up on something we had built together. Plus I knew I would miss it.
Doug told me once that what he liked best about bluebirding was the look on my face when I opened a box and found a good surprise inside. He knew how much joy bluebirding brought me. He did it all for me because he loved me. He was my hero. I'm glad I never took his help, or him, for granted.
May all your blues be birds.
Donations in honor of Doug's life may be made to:
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