The art of Khuyen Lam
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I thought birding was for civilized people; people who are patient, attentive and comfortable with being still. Not someone who has unmedicated ADHD. My relationship with nature involved hurried peak bagging. Each summer was a mountainous marathon that shredded my feet and crisped my skin. But my frenzied lifestyle came to a screeching halt after a car accident left my car and body totaled.

Two years and a surgery later, I celebrated my recovery with an outing on Mt. Si. At the end of my hike, I fell and carved the Grand Canyon into my leg. I want to tell a heroic story about how that happened … That I was, “dangling off a cliff on the Haystack and I tumbled down!” Or, “A cougar took a bite out of my leg!” But it just so happened that I tripped on my way to the restroom by the parking lot and skidded on a sharp rock.

Though inglorious, I left the operating table with 34 stitches. I was bedridden for months to follow. In my boredom, I had a random thought to leave some seeds on the window sill. First a couple of crows showed up, then dark-eyed juncos and chickadees. Over a spring and summer season, my set up slowly expanded into an urban aviary.

I didn’t expect it to create so much commotion. I had box office seats to a fierce aerial jousting tournament between three hummingbirds. In the audience was a dark-eyed junco, huddled onto the railing like a pancake. His eyes flitted nervously, terrified he would be collateral damage between the warring triad.  I laughed when a house finch darted back and forth on the balcony railing in his attempt to eat, while his children followed him, screaming for beak-fed meals. This was in contrast to the house sparrows, who dutifully prioritized their chicks without much complaint. I stomped furiously when a pair of Steller’s Jay found and carried away an unsecured bag of peanuts.

I had thought birding would be boring. Then my life had reached a standstill and I came to see how the lives of birds were so rich and full of movement. Their antics gave me unfettered joy and excitement during a difficult time for the human world. I would momentarily stop worrying about the future, because avians come and go without notice. I had to live in the present to appreciate them.

While looking up different videos of bird feeders, I found the now-closed Junco’s Pub, a miniature in Nova Scotia created by artist Elling Lien. It was so charming, and the birds seemed to love it. I was heart-broken to learn Junco’s Pub had been discontinued a few years ago following an Avian Flu outbreak. I decided to continue Lien’s legacy, though I went overboard and opened a strip mall of feeders: a milk tea boba shop, a farm stand, a coffee shop and a soju bar. In the future, I plan to build a ski lodge, an outdoor bistro and a breakfast diner!

Building these little bird cafes to survive the Pacific Northwest weather system was a challenge. And I still have a lot to learn. Many of the feeder boxes were created from commissioned shadow boxes created by a craftsman named Ed. The plywood fared well in the summertime, but once the rain began, it took a beating.

I had painted over the boxes and furniture with several coats of polyurethane to withstand the moisture. That’s prevented major water damage, but still not enough to keep up with the level of precipitation. Layers of wood started to peel off.

Another major mistake I made was using Wood Glue. The rain water melted away the adhesive and many pieces of furniture and the exterior windows fell apart. I opted for hot glue with mixed results. It did a good job securing the store windows, but smaller pieces would still fall apart a few days outside. Hopefully, I’ll be able to figure out solutions for the next feeder projects!

Thanks for reading,