I LOVE OUR BACK PORCH. Sunny or rainy, I can sit outside and write all I want while I listen to the neighborhood birds and just rest in the breeze. Except for the sawdust. A few years back, I began to notice little piles of sawdust on the floor. Naturally I looked up, and to my surprise, saw perfect little holes in the cedar beams. We had bees! Carpenter bees or wood bees, they were gnawing away at dead wood, laying eggs, and letting the new larvae feast on the wood too.
I researched in earnest and found out that there’s really not much you can do. Sure, fill the holes with steel wool. Ugly. Nail steel mesh to the bottom of your beams. Ugly. Install a spray system that mists every fifteen minutes to keep them at bay. Expensive. So, I did what most vigilant moms might. I prayed for the bees to go away, and I got my broom and stayed on guard several times a day for that first summer. As soon as a bee dug in, I swatted. After a few weeks, I had killed enough that further damage was averted.
But this year was different. In the late spring as I sat writing, I noticed dozens of smaller, solid black bees in the woodpile. It was as if they appeared in one day. But, while I was sitting there, a bird arrived, and not one I had ever seen before. He was small and round and brown, and he didn’t mind me a bit. If a bird could appear delighted, he did. He went to town, hopping from stick to log and then diving into the pile, eating those bees. I needed to do more research. Sure enough, those all-black bees were young carpenters, and that fine bird was a Brown Creeper, a nuthatch. What an unexpected answer to prayer.
I began to observe that nuthatch and his friends over the next few days, and they seemed to vacation and feast in my yard. Nuthatches never roost alone but always in a large family known as a jar. A jar of birds! The mother and father raise one brood each year, and offspring from previous years help raise the young. Siblings at your service. But I was at a loss when trying to figure out why they were so named until . . .
Ascending a pine tree, his little round ball of a body turned upside down as he scaled the tree, the nuthatch moved in a spiral pecking under the bark. And then I saw it. That one moment where he caught something. I think it was a beetle. Quick as could be, he tucked that beetle under some loose bark and pounded on the bark, splitting that beetle wide open. Thus, the nuthatch, “hatching” any large insect or seed was perfectly equipped.
Naturalist Winsor M. Tyler writes, “The Brown Creeper, as he hitches along the bole of a tree, looks like a fragment of the detached bark that is defying the law of gravitation by moving upward over the trunk, and as he flies off to another tree, he resembles a little dry leaf blown about by the wind.” So poetic but picture perfect.
Over the next few weeks, this little community of ten happily took care of every wood bee. Tittering and chittering, they played in the dirt in the back corner of the yard and eagerly roosted in our small stand of trees. Then they were gone. The heat of summer had intensified, their food source depleted. I was sad not to see and hear them anymore. At the same time, I was filled with wonder at how God had provided for them and for me.