birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


We have a utility room at the back of our house. It opens by way of a manual metal garage door out into the yard. The original builder had a riding lawnmower that he kept in the “Man Cave” and he must have opened the rolling door overhead and driven out down the cement ramp to the yard. 

It has a counter with cabinets, old dressers containing paint brushes and jars of nails and a wall of pegboard like any self-respecting man cave. It has two ladders attached to the wall with their tops 2 feet from the tall ceiling. A cracked framed photo of Hank Williams shirtless in the Alexander City jail where he wrote the song “poor old Kowaliga” sits next to the ladder as a casualty of moving and neglect. 

IN the summer, the dogs come to lie on the cold cement floor in the shade and in the winter, the man cave door is only opened a crack so the dogs can come in and keep warm when we are at work. 

Every morning at 545 AM, I open the door to let my early rising dog out to do her business while I stand and stretch. 

One morning in December when I went through the garage proper to open the man cave, I was startled by the sound of wings. I assumed that a bird had flown in the preceding evening and gotten trapped so I opened the man cave door wide and went inside so that I wouldn’t spook the bird. 

I told my husband and didn’t think of it again. We had found a trapped hummingbird the previous summer and had to hold it in our hand to encourage it to drink some nectar. We learned that hummingbirds give out of energy and cannot fly without refueling. It was a very scary but cool experience. 

The next morning, I went into the man cave to let out my dog and the bird was in the man cave fluttering around. I was again surprised but the bird nosedived out under the door as though he was expecting me. 

That evening my said “your bird was sitting on top of the ladder when I closed the man cave.” We laughed thinking that the bird was deliberately coming in to get out of the cold. 

We quit laughing when he kept showing up night after night just in time for us to shut the door and turn off the lights. 

This happened for several weeks and then one night, my husband came in to tell me that our bird was nowhere to be found. 

I snuck back out and opened the door and left it open all night. Still no bird. 

Two days later he was back and I was so happy- absurdly so. Risking heart break, we put a little bird seed on the bench and made sure there was water.

And then he went missing for 3 days in a row, then 4 and it has now been 10 days since we saw our little gray and brown bird. 

A friend told me that the birds that live in the drafty ceiling Home Depot buildings know how to trigger the automatic doors and that they teach their baby birds how to open them as well. 

I guess a place that has automatic doors opening into a huge cavern is infinitely more desirable than a man cave with 4 dogs and a picture of Hank Williams shirtless. Birds didn’t get to be the oldest example of dinosaurs by accident.  


Road Runner