For some reason, my boyfriend and I decided that the end of the summer would be a good time to finally get started on the balcony. In fact, we’ve been meaning to do something about it for the past year and a half, since we moved into our apartment. It’s a great balcony. It’s really spacious and instead of looking out onto a road, it faces onto a courtyard. There’s just one problem: other residents had got there before us. Pigeons.
There are the common rock doves, as well as big, fat cooing wood pigeons. We’d got so used to the sound of pigeons cooing that we’d stopped noticing it. That was, until we decided to reclaim our balcony. Now, the sound of pigeons cooing has us running for the balcony door to scare them off with clapping and wild hand gestures and we’ve spent hours thinking up ways to (humanely) encourage the to find a new home. I’d love to be able to live peaceably with the pigeons – I find the sight of the wood pigeons huddled together on the railing quite charming – but I just can’t see that happening.
Reclaiming the balcony involved a major clean up operation because the real problem with pigeons is that they poop: a lot. So we’ve spent the last two weekends scrubbing and mopping and sweeping and finally managed to achieve a semblance of cleanliness. We were so mesmerised by our handy work that every time we passed the balcony door, we couldn’t help but stop and admire it. Later on that evening we even got out of a torch so that we could admire it in the dark – only to discover that our efforts had attracted a big, fat slug to the balcony. My boyfriend immediately began Googling slug deterrents.
I realised then the contradiction in trying to create a space in which to be outside, by banishing the outside. I’m supposed to love nature but when it comes to my own home, I want to enjoy it from a distance. It’s not just my balcony; I’m fussy about nature inside my apartment too. Mice are a huge problem in Amsterdam and it seems as though everyone but us has to live alongside them. Still, the threat of mice is always there in the back of my mind. I’m okay with spiders that just want to hang out in a corner, but as soon as they look like they might crawl on me whilst I sleep, out come the cup and cardboard (and yes, it’s usually my boyfriend doing the spider removal). Moths, flies, silverfish – I’d just rather they weren’t in my house.
The fact is, these animals and insects aren’t nature. We’ve stripped them of that label and instead call them pests or creatures. We even call pigeons rats with wings – a phrase that always makes me picture a rat, with wings, and that shows just how low the rat has fallen in our esteem. In his book Weeds, Richard Mabey writes about how “weeds” are really just plants in the wrong place. The pigeons trying to make a home for themselves on my balcony are amazing birds that in other contexts I can admire. For example, as I was researching how to clean pigeon poop, I learnt that the reason pigeon poop is so tarry is that they actually use their poop to help stabilise and cement their nests. Fascinating.
Still, they have to go. It might be a contradiction, but it’s one I’m just going to have to live with. Lying on our new hammock, strung across our newly cleaned balcony, I can’t help but think, I can live with this.