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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Bluebirds and Happiness

It had been a long six weeks of social distancing. I anticipated my brother's Mother's Day weekend visit with great excitement. We planned to celebrate our mother as we have only been motherless for a few years. Corona was also to blame for our lack of recent sibling time.

Brother on Egan's Creek

We sprinkled some of Mom’s ashes on the beach while the full moon rose the first night, because Mom loved the moon rise over the Atlantic. We went kayaking, rode bicycles, ate local shrimp, walked the dog, and talked. We talked about Mom and how she would have enjoyed our activities or hearing about them (we could not imagine Mom in a kayak). But the best part of the weekend involved bird houses.

Alligators spotted along the bike trail.

Mom loved birds, looking up their names and demographics, and talking about them. In my neighborhood we have bluebirds. Mom never saw them, because by the time she moved here, she couldn’t see well and rarely went outside. But she would have liked them.

I decided that we needed bluebird boxes in the neighborhood and asked my brother if he could help me acquire some.

Eastern bluebird by Bill Thompson for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at

Robert takes a good idea seriously and has a practical approach to acquisitions because he appreciates quality products. Rather than buying, he thought we should make our bird houses. He researched the design on the North American Bluebird Society website and precut the pieces from cypress boards, using their directions.

He arrived to spend Mother’s Day weekend with his thoughtful and loving gift. Initially, I was a bit overwhelmed by the project and frankly imagined it would make a mess and take the better part of a day. His enthusiasm was contagious once he told me how he acquired the cypress.

The cypress came from Lake Rousseau along the Withlacoochee River near Crystal River, Florida. The logs were cut around 1905 by the Cummins Cypress Company that logged out the river basin and the logs these board were cut from had been rejected or simply sunk to the bottom of the lake where they lay for nearly 100 years, until they were fished out about 2001. Robert bought them then and had them milled, knowing he wanted to use them at some point. He cut the bird house pieces from one of the remaining boards.

The wood is rugged with some knots and little imperfections; each piece appears to be the perfect choice for a customized bird family home. Some of the pieces were a little bit warped due to their storage in the Florida humidity. That, too, added to the uniqueness of each home.

Robert patiently walked me through the steps of putting the house together and showed me how to use the fancy drill bit that makes a 1 9/16-inch hole exactly the size of a bluebird's front door. He was slightly amused at my “oh wow” moment when I realized just how the drill cut the holes so perfectly. We also made trap doors, closed by a duplex nail, for easy seasonal cleaning.

Every step of the construction was exciting for me; my brother kept me busy with simple hammering and drilling small holes. After my bad attempts at drilling in the screws, we decided he would do that part. Leaving me alone with power drills and sharp screws is a bad idea.

He could have put them together much faster without my help. But this was a brother-sister Mother’s Day project and it was perfect. Spending time together was such fun and Mother would have supported it enthusiastically.

The six house pieces came together to form an inviting, natural looking home. The longer back piece hangs down to give a good base for attaching it to a tree or post. The roof has a nice overhang so that rain will run off and it shades front door from the sun and prying eyes of predators.

One bluebird house now hangs on a tree in my front yard, where I can see it and the birds have easy access. Two more will be installed in the empty lot belonging to a neighbor. Our sister in Tennessee will get a house and the other went home with my brother. It is nice that my siblings and I will be able to share bluebird stories.

Mom would have loved this project for its use of natural materials, the family bonding, and helping birds. Building homes for bluebird families was the most perfect thing to do to honor her.

Mom filling her bird feeders, with grandson, Matt, 1987

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