I Love Birds Most


Home Improvements

Photograph by Kate Riley.

Given a space to inhabit unobserved, I will immediately convert it into a physical representation of the inside of my brain. My annual trip to the old Zillow listing for the farm I bought eight years ago leaves me stunned every time: it was once the kind of house one could list on Zillow! Now it is mine; I have filled the walls with pictures,hung the surplus ones on the ceiling, crowded every surface with dioramas and precarious unidentifiable objects that look like chess pieces from outer space. There is nowhere to sit in the house except on the floor with the dogs (and, every hatching season, with the emu chicks who run figure eights around the obstacle art). Like my brain, it’s a fun place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

My house, the physical building, is an arranged marriage of two old farmhouses that were dragged from different parts of the country and clumsily conjoined. I decline to speculate on which side is holding up the other. There is a secret spiral staircase, accessed through a cupboard door, with ludicrously uneven treads; the wavy glass windowpanes cast distorted shadows. The two halves of my house must have each accommodated entire families, but the current inhabitants between them, in descending order of population, are: eggs, birds, dogs, me. 

Every morning around eleven, having done the farm rounds and broadcast feed to the loyal birds, I commence with the small-scale batch production of objects that promise but do not fulfill utility. I tend to work compulsively and repetitively, making hundreds of variations of the same thing until I exhaust my supply of the necessary materials or my own fascination with it. There are blown-out, intact eggshells equipped with antennae or working motion sensors; eggshells hinged to open like boxes, or with latched hatches, lined with poppy red flocking; emu egg dirigibles rigged with ball chains, hanging from the kitchen rafters. Over the  past six months, I’ve manufactured thousands of one-inch hollow resin spheres, each kitted out with some combination of magnets, O-rings, and fishing tackle and beads. Each one of them is perfect, and the only people who see them are the bewildered tradesmen who need access to the circuit breaker in my kitchen.

I love birds most for the combination of complexity and stupidity they exhibit: their deep-seated, unplumbable impulse to perform elaborate, apparently pointless procedures. The contents of my house demonstrate that it is an impulse I share.

Kate Riley’s story L. R. appears in the Winter 2022 issue of the Review.