Anonymous gifts

Years ago, someone built a dozen birdhouses and mounted them along I-84 in Connecticut. On a recent trip to the Northeast, I was pleased to see they were still there.

Not long after we moved to Connecticut in 1985, I noticed on my daily commute that someone had built a birdhouse and nailed it to the tall wooden sound-barrier wall along I-84 westbound, just before Exit 58. Shortly thereafter another birdhouse, of a different design, was added. Then a third. After about a year or so there were seven birdhouses (one shaped like a white duck), all mounted in a row about 4’ apart up on that wall. Birdhouses continued to appear, and by 1990 or so, there were a dozen of them; a nearly 50’ line of evenly spaced birdhouses.

Those green sound-barrier walls are about the ugliest things around, and I was pleased that someone had taken the time to anonymously brighten it up with their work. (Or maybe it was more than one somebody; I’ll never know.) The prospect of driving to work is never a pleasant one – that’s why they call it “work,” after all – but I always managed a smile passing that spot on the interstate every day. Even more so when I happened to see birds going in and out of the houses.

We’ve lived in West Virginia for more than seven years now, but while visiting my daughter up there earlier this week, I was surprised – and no small amount pleased – to see that those birdhouses are still there. The weeds and saplings have grown up over that portion of the wall, hiding several of the houses. Most are in pretty bad shape, which isn’t surprising considering that some of them have been there for more than 25 years, but they’re still happily serving their purpose.

Driving past, once again I smiled to see them, even in their current state. And, not for the first time since 1985, I wondered who the unknown woodworker was who gave that cheerful gift to the thousands of commuters who pass that spot daily.



  • Nancy Kroes says:

    They’ve been previously mentioned:

    From the Hartford Courant
    July 17, 1996
    A heart to the thoughtful soul who tacked a charmingly ornate birdhouse to a highway sound barrier along I-84. Though the wooden fence shields human beings from traffic noise, it need not seem like alien territory to avians.

    and from 1998

    Another odd landmark has found a home off the shoulder on westbound I-384, where it merges with I- 84 westbound at the Manchester- East Hartford line.

    The roadside walls there are mostly unremarkable, just a row of wooden structures erected as sound barriers to limit the highway noise in an adjacent neighborhood.

    But there, on two of the panels, is a head-scratcher: a row of birdhouses and wooden ornaments, a bright and puzzling mystery on an otherwise ho-hum highway. Unless you know to look, you’ll whiz right by dozens of times without noticing them.

  • Nancy Kroes says:

    But what a charming idea. Kudos to the long-ago woodworker.

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