Bless This Nest: Part Two

by Tyler Sjostrom

Longtime readers of this column (Hey, Mom!) might remember a piece from last year called “Bless This Nest.” For those who were busy with other things and missed it entirely (Hey, Dad!) below is an elevator synopsis, which my mother and her fellow Appleton Monthly devotees may skip.


This past spring, a family of finches made a nest on our porch and filled it with five blue eggs. My toddler son loved the nest, and I kinda did too, even though the finches wrecked my gutter leaf-guard building it. When a windstorm knocked down a few branches on our street and a similar nest was among the casualties — while ours remained safe — it became evident that our finches weren’t any better or worse than the nest that was claimed by the windstorm. They were just lucky. And that’s what we’ll tell our kid someday when he doesn’t understand why bad things happen to those who don’t deserve it. 


In a year which saw civil unrest, a global pandemic, and not one but two new Taylor Swift albums, our nest of finches was among the brighter spots. So, imagine my delight when, a few days ago, I noticed a few more patches of my gutter guard strewn about the yard. My eyes lit up like Christmas morning. “Could it be?!” And yes, tucked beneath the awning of our house were our old finch friends, who we’ve named (obviously) Atticus and Jennie. These are like the friends who you’re always happy to have visit even though they don’t clean up after themselves.


In welcoming them back, I got to thinking about the place they’ve chosen to nest. As neighborhoods go, these finches picked a good one. And it’s not because our street is uniform in any demographic, be it age, race, or political affiliation.  


From the same porch where Atticus, et. al., have staked their claim, I can see the house of the loveable, conservative gearhead who has helped with every mechanical issue I’ve had in the last five years. I can see the house of a couple who have built a life here over sixty years and whose staple gun I think I need to return. I can see the house of a couple our age, one of whom joined our quaint little enclave by way of Haiti, and who has a son the same age as ours. Birds of all feathers.


Most neighborhoods are this way; built of people who are generally welcoming and helpful when needed, and who can’t be painted with a broad brush as much as we’d like to try. Appleton is this way. Wisconsin is this way.


Much has been said in recent years about the so-called “death of the neighborhood.” This has been chalked up to myriad factors, from lives lived online to suspicion of “the other” to the effect of political signs on neighborly civility. But if neighborhoods are dying, it might not be because we’re all so different that they can’t be saved. It might be because we’ve been too willing to let them die. 


My finch neighbors, Atticus and Jennie, aren’t perfect. They make a mess. They don’t respect our shared property as much as I might have liked. We have our differences.


But that doesn’t mean that the neighborhood isn’t big enough for all of us. The finches add more to the texture of our neighborhood than they take away. All of my neighbors — the gearhead, the young couple, the elder statesman who might be missing a staple gun, and now the finches — help to explain why we live in the nest we do.


A few more years of the finches sub-letting our porch and I’ll learn all the lessons a person could ever need.