When Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter read the post I wrote about my phone call with Artist Friend, she laughed and said, "I like the dialogue. It's funny." She looked at me. "Of course, you do make him sound like a nerd."
So now I feel obligated to say, for the record, Artist Friend is not a nerd. It's true that he has four degrees in three different fields and reads dreadfully long dense books for pleasure. It's true that he asked me to send him digital photos of the flowers I had seen on my hike, and he would not give up until we had figured out their Latin names and common names. But no, none of that makes him a nerd. Not at all. I mean, it's perfectly normal to get excited about a wren carrying a stick.
In fairness to Artist Friend, I am including here the context of what he said about the wren. I was just at the end of a story when the wren came into the conversation:
Me: And the worst part is that now —
Him: A wren! A wren carrying a stick!
Him: A wren! Going into the birdhouse!
Me: Oh, a wren. In your yard.
Him: Sorry to interrupt your story, but this is exciting!
Me: (laughing) Yes, I can tell.
Him: Really, go on with what you were saying.
Me: So like I said, the worst part is that now –
Him: He's trying to get the stick into the hole!
Me: The wren?
Him: Yeah, but the stick is sideways.
Me: He doesn't know enough to turn it?
Him: He's a bird.
Me: Oh, right.
Him: The stick is like six inches long. He needs to turn it.
Me: How's he going to figure that out?
Him: He's just banging away at it.
Me (laughing): So, as I was saying ....
See, it's not that he's a nerd, it's that he's easily distracted. One time, for example, when we were driving to a conference together and we were already a couple hours late, we happened upon a softball game in a small town, and he actually pulled over so we could climb onto the bleachers and watch an inning. That same day, a short walk to the Pond Made Famous by Big Time Nature Writer turned into a long walk when he decided we needed to rescue a duck tangled in a fishing line, a rescue attempt that involved me leaping into the water to chase the bird towards him. And I couldn't tell you how many farm stands we stopped at to buy homemade fruit tarts, navel oranges, and a basket of hanging flowers for him to bring back to his wife.
Of course, Artist Friend himself defended his preoccupation with the wren: "You should have added that the wren was visiting the birdhouse that my son and I built on Sunday and hung in the apple tree on Monday. That's exciting!"
Well, that does make a difference. And it's true, he had told me all about building the birdhouse. Because, in addition to his many other talents, Artist Friend makes furniture: "The dovetailing on the birdhouse is actually a failed first attempt at making a drawer for the table I've been working on. It's plenty good enough for a birdhouse, with too many gaps and glitches for a nice piece of furniture. The wood was ruined for the table, but it was perfect for the birdhouse--that's why it's built out of cherry and walnut, which would normally be too expensive and fancy even for as delightful a bird as a wren."
The most exciting news, of course, is that the wren did eventually figure out how to get the stick into the hole.
Artist Friend sent me a photo of the wren house, and I admit that it's beautiful. I knew it would be. Artist Friend loves beautiful things – whether it's the language of a novel, a painting in a museum, the pattern of colour on butterfly wings, the view from the top of a mountain on a rainy day, the legs of a French woman walking past a cafe on a lazy afternoon, or the way sunlight falls on varnished wood.
Photo by Artist Friend