Gambrels of the Sky

The Birds and the Birds

Most mornings, I watch from our living room as a man across the street leans out his window and throws handfuls of food to the pigeons that congregate on the eaves. Bread crumbs or seeds, I’m not sure. Like us, the man lives on the top floor of his building, and something about being at the same height as him gives me a sense of intimacy about our relationship. Not that he’s ever seen me. I always watch from a concealed spot behind the curtains. But, knowing him as I do, I’m pretty sure if he did see me, he would shake his fist and yell an obscenity, or, worse, start varying the feeding times so I couldn’t catch him in the act.

In general, I do not like pigeons, and I believe it is a terrible idea to invite them to your fifth-story window for daily feedings. But this man’s nook is at the peak of a typical Amsterdam roof. When he leans out of the single square window, he looks a just like a cuckoo coming out of its clock. This, coupled with his curly gray mane and the wild gesticulations he makes while throwing the food, makes it easy to see why I don’t want him to stop. In my mind, he’s a stock character, complete with a recognizeable backstory: the local Bird Man, locked away in his narrow tower with only his trusty pigeons for company.

Anyway, I was watching all this yesterday when I noticed two of the pigeons behaving oddly. They were circling and pecking at each other in, dare I say, a kissy and flirtatious manner. Sure enough, one of them jumped up on the other’s back and flapped its wings for about five seconds. The deed was so brief that by the time I yelled for Dave, it was over. Afterward, the pair meandered around awkwardly for a minute or two and then wandered to different parts of the ledge. I looked up “pigeon mating” and learned that the kissing I had seen was actually the male pigeon mimicking the act of feeding a chick by regurgitating food into his mate’s mouth. Standard pigeon foreplay. Best to keep the end goal in mind.

It’s spring! The ground is muddy, the grass bright. The last crocuses are giving way to the first tulips. For several days now, I’ve been thinking hard about what to say about spring. It’s not really my favorite season, or even my second favorite, but I do understand the appeal. So I took my camera out with me on three walks with the explicit purpose of snapping some pictures of the flowers. I thought: this will put me in the mood; this will give me the fodder I need. Twice I ended up trudging home in the rain, and once I made for the yarn store instead. I did get these:

Then I thought maybe reading about spring would give me inspiration, so I searched online for “Essays on Spring.” But all I got were a bunch of plagiarism sites for fifth graders. The essays repeated all the platitudes you might expect: bunnies, crocuses, new life, yada yada. What’s there new to say on the subject?

Well, before I stop my circling and leave the pigeons behind completely, I’ve also been struggling with what to say about another new-lifey subject: pregnancy—specifically, my own. Yeah, I’m pregnant, about four months so. And what do I have to say for myself? In thirty-four years, I must have read at least ten-thousand pieces about pregnancy and motherhood: the poignant, the funny, the wistful, the bland. Like spring, pregnancy involves a turning of generations, the emergence of long-latent physical changes. And, like spring, pregnancy seems to my writing mind an inherently interesting subject that has been sucked dry.

Sometimes, I walk through busy intersections thinking how incredible it is that all the people in the world were once inside a pregnant woman. I mean, with the exception of the pictures on everyone you’ve ever met’s Facebook feed, you just don’t see that many pregnant people around. Now that I’m pregnant, I realize how many of them are moving secretly among us, not visible to the public eye until around the halfway point—even later during jacket season, which is nearly year round in these parts. Pregnant women are both relatively rare and universally familiar. When you spot one, you feel as though you know a secret about a stranger. You imagine elements of her life, create narratives that you wouldn’t normally bother with. This imagined bond makes you smile warmly or ask inappropriately familiar questions. At least this is the urge I have felt during past encounters. Even setting the political aside, it’s easy to see why so much has been written about public intrusion on pregnant women’s private lives.

At around eighteen weeks (though I’m told that nobody measures time in weeks except pregnant people), I’m starting to have trouble buttoning my pants, so I went to the maternity store the other day to buy a pair of leggings masquerading as jeans. There we all were, casting furtive glances at one another’s midsections. I’ve told lots of people that I’m pregnant, but, barring encounters in the midwife’s reception room, this was my first “reveal” to total strangers. My body doesn’t announce itself quite yet, but one’s presence in the maternity section is hard to mistake. The saleswoman approached unbidden to talk about the merits of certain nursing bras. I asked a few questions and made a couple of bad jokes in broken Dutch. The few men trailing about the store kept their eyes trained to the floor, but I swear I saw some women eyeing my bra size.

Below is a Jimmy Stewart-esque picture from my living room window. In the foreground, you’ll notice two pigeons on a ledge. Above and to the right of them, is the famous feeding window. But these are not THE pigeons (at least I don’t think so), and you’ll notice that Bird Man is nowhere in sight. These characters may know nothing about it, but it’s important to me to guard this measure of solidarity. Specifics about the identity of the birds involved in the indelicate reproductive act will remain right where they should be: between me and them. And, just like the pregnant women of the world, Bird Man has a right to his private life too. I mean, what with his lonely childhood, distant father, and failed romances, I figure he has enough to worry about without his face appearing on my blog.