A Feast For February Eyes: Birdbath Mania in Laurelhurst

photo by Will Simmons

Even before the first day of this February a funk settled over me so deep it would have made James Brown envious. January ended with two days of winter sunshine and I couldn’t take it. Cold gray skies have slithered back that may bring a wintry mix allowing me to get back to daydreams of real sunshine emanating from the cloudless blue skied August afternoons like the one that had a friend and me stumbling upon an overly decorated, yet endlessly fascinating explosion of birdbaths in the Laurelhurst neighborhood.

In the previous times I’d spotted this yard, my head always snapped back as I tried to catch a glimpse while speeding by on my way to get some place. It was a startling to see the yard in slow motion. The opportunity arose when Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit was in town for the World International Orbit conference held in August of 2017. On one of our many bike tours we headed through the Laurelhurst neighborhood on what had to have been Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Here was a place I’d been meaning to experience for a long time.

I know next to nothing about the origins of this superb example of birdbath mania. It’s possible that things have changed drastically since I last saw it a year and a half ago. It’s even more likely that it remains the same except for slow decay from time and weather. Neighbors could either see it as a source of pride or annoyance. It would take some organization to rid the neighborhood of what the unenlightened might consider an eyesore.

The yard has a feel of a folk art environment. Of course the art in question seems to be of the store-bought variety but there’s art in the arrangement and yard art quantity. This cluttered approach to exterior decorating overwhelms the eye with visions of disintegrating sculptures and cement. Birdbaths spill over the ceramic retaining wall, out of the yard’s boundaries and past the sidewalk. Grumpy, old-fashioned children haunt me while lawn deer and smiling frogs attempt to lighten the mood.

I can only wonder what birds think of the yard. The baths didn’t exactly teem with life. No birds were spotted. The birdbaths didn’t appear to contain water. Other signs of decay included dried plants and worn out statues. One figurine, absorbed in a book, remained oblivious to her feet having crumbled and fallen off. The volume of ceramics, figurines, statues, knickknacks, birdbaths and cement that combine to form this bastion of over-decoration overshadows what probably was never intended as a bird spa anyway.

 

Post Script: It’s cemented in my brain that February can be a tough month. I may have remained unwary of this phenomenon had it not been for the comments of Rich Reece that appeared in the Portland Monthly a few years back. Life can be a slog at anytime but when you throw in recurring grime, blankets of rain and a constant shade of gray people can get depressed. Advise like not impulsively quitting your job or your significant other is good all year round but it’s also fitting for a month that wears on people. Be glad it’s a short month. Stay healthy, don’t let your misery get exponential and fight that temptation to yell at man-bun sporting jaywalkers. A quick culture fix spent staring at an odd assortment of birdbaths may be the cure for winter doldrums—weather permitting of course. 

photo by Will Simmons

photo by Will Simmons

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