Noe Valley Voice November 2005

Views Are for the Birds

By Sandra Wulff

When I tell people I recently moved to Liberty Street, the common response is, "Wow, you must have a spectacular view."

Well, I do--except, as my brother observed the first time he entered my apartment, "You gotta get rid of that tree."

Nearly all my visitors say the same thing. My husband suggested we pierce the tree with a copper nail. It would die gradually. No one would suspect us.

The offending plant is a five-story-tall conifer with sprays of sharp two-inch needles and pine cones the size of hand grenades. The top of the tree, distorted by constant wind, points perpetually towards Bernal Hill. Years ago, the residents downstairs convinced the neighbor to saw off 10 feet of vista-blocking limbs. The amputated pine now resembles something Charlie Brown would drag home--if he were a giant.

Smack outside my kitchen window, the tree stands between me and what would be an unobstructed view of the City Hall dome.

My new neighbors proposed we conspire to persuade the guy next door to cut the tree down. At that I snapped.

You see, I like the tree. "Birds land on that tree," I whined to these veritable strangers. Then, to redeem myself in case they'd considered me a kooky treehugger, I told them about the parrots.

I'd heard that wild parrots had roosted near Dolores Park but that they'd disappeared from the area--eventually finding fame on Telegraph Hill. But on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, an unfamiliar squawk lured me to the window to investigate. "The parrots are in our tree!" I'd exclaimed out loud to an empty house. There they were, visiting the old neighborhood--three small bright-green parrots perched side by side on an upper branch.

"Right outside my window--the parrots!" I said, excitedly. The neighbors feigned mild interest.

I could go on. The tree attracts an unimaginable variety of birds. Tiny, iridescent green hummingbirds buzz by the branches. Crows caw and mourning doves coo. Sparrows and starlings alight. I noticed a blue jay, with a spiky crown of black feathers, picking insects with its pointed beak. And the most riveting exhibit yet--a sharp-shinned hawk. The predator, with its large brown-and-white-dappled body, flat striped tail, beady eyes, and short sharp beak, frightened the songbirds away but held me captive. A hawk here in the middle of the city!

Like a shelter hut offering respite to back-country hikers, the tree has become a haven for journeying birds, a pit stop before miles of downtown buildings transform into miles of sea. They stop by on their way across town or across the continent. They rest, they eat, they preen. I watch.

My binoculars, which had been stuffed in their case since I camped the Everglades 10 years ago, I now keep out on my kitchen counter. As Indian Summer comes to a close, I eagerly anticipate nest construction and migrating birds. I'll invite the neighbors. The view is spectacular.

Sandra Wulff works in the research department of the University of California, Office of the President. Though writing is only a sideline for her, she last year won the 2005 U.C. Berkeley Fabilli-Hoffer essay prize. A former resident of Elizabeth Street, Wulff has lived on Liberty Street with her husband James since July. The birds outside her window are the closest she comes to having pets.

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