Back Porch Table

Hello, New Life

Heading for the hills

Cindy Gabriel
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Bird's nest

NESTING “Think I’ll nest here a while.” Cindy Gabriel social distances with a Phoebe bird family on her porch in Hunt, Texas. (Photo: Katie Wright)

I would like to report a theft. The title for this column last month was stolen from a book I read called Welcome to Your Crisis by Laura Day. I only realized it after seeing it where I left it, on a bookshelf in Hunt, Texas, a country home I am blessed to be able to retreat to when I get the chance.  

Back in the day when people actually browsed through bookstores, the title jumped out at me. But what really sold me was the inside-jacket cover quote. 

“The moment your life falls apart is also the moment your new one begins. It is the moment when illusion and deception fall away and the naked truth emerges. Crisis can be extraordinarily painful. But when approached head-on, it can also be a source of power, hope and vision, and the start of the life you really want.” 

The book focused mostly on personal crisis, but it was published in 2006 in midst of the savings and loan crisis, backdropped by 9/11, 2001. Like this country, most of us have had a starter-crisis or two of our own. 

This house in Hunt entered the picture with the sudden, unexpected death of my father in January 2011, 72 days following the death of his wife of 20-something years, whom he married eight months after my mother died. In between that, my husband George’s father died. So we lost three parents in 72 days.  

What ensued, on my family side, was a three-year probate melodrama with a colorful cast of characters that would fit right into the cable genre: Schitt’s Creek meets Tiger King with a hint of Breaking Bad. One of the many wrinkles in the costly mess was this house in Hunt that Dad and his wife had recently purchased for more than it was worth. It was basically upside down.  

It stayed on the market for the entire three years of the probate purgatory. Every time I visited to check on the property, it seemed as if the property was doing its own checking in on me. As the only beneficiary living in Texas, I ended up accepting it (against my lawyer’s advice) with a little cash helping from the other three, who were glad to get it off their hands. 

Stepping on the back deck for me feels like Dorothy stepping into Oz. The hills, trees, deer, cactus, birds and sky combine to cast their spell – always familiar, yet always different, as a vivid new color presents itself each visit, through some blooming vine or the wildflower color of the week.

This time, upon arriving, the surprise wasn’t initially so pleasant. On the covered back porch was a scattering of dirt and twigs that appeared as if a rodent of some kind were making itself at home. Above was a mossy mess resting on the blade of a ceiling fan.  

Should I get a paper bag and broom and try to sweep it away? What if I wound up with a paper bag full of baby rats? Not relishing the thought, I decided to do nothing. 

By the next morning, I had totally forgotten about it, until, from my kitchen window, I saw a bird sitting on that messy ceiling fan lump. My bag of rats had magically transformed into something much more pleasant. Procrastination can sometimes be a friend, especially if you’re a city girl in the country.

My dad’s wife saw this place as a back-up home in case of, well, in case of what we are going through right now. It had survival food, Bunsen burners, storage bins for toilet paper, paper towels and other stuff she anticipated needing.  

Her family took the expensive stuff, leaving me with six years worth of toilet paper and paper towels, ironically. I chose to run through it, not because I didn’t appreciate the possibility of something catastrophic happening. I just don’t want to spend a lot of time worrying about things that might happen and miss what actually is happening.

Right now, what I have before me, I discovered (after some calling of friends and Googling) is a bird called a Phoebe, of the flycatcher family. She eats flying insects like wasps, which is good.  

Phoebes are known for building tight, artful nests, despite the messy outside view. Mizz Phoebe Bird has no way of knowing what a precarious place she has chosen, or how close she came to having her life upended by my broom. She’s still a human switch flip away from being sent hurling along with her nest. But that won’t happen on my watch.

On April 8, 2024, Hunt, Texas will be smack dab in the center of the next total solar eclipse.  God willing, I’ll be on this back porch.

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