Last Testament to the Purple Martin

Reprinted from: Update 11(1)
John Barrow
4146 Congressional Drive
Corpus Christi, TX, 78413
[email protected]

It's been almost a decade since I pieced together a newly purchased 2-story Heath martin house and planted it in concrete near the base of the pine trees that grew in my backyard. It never occurred to me that the yellow-beaked occupants that first season weren't martins, or that the proximity of the tall trees were not an ideal attractant and perfect place for "the martins" to perch and sing. And my initial pleasure soon passed and the house became a mere lawn ornament for me.

I do not recall exactly when or how I learned of the mistakes made in erecting my first house, but I am certain the source of that knowledge was the PMCA. It was their basic formula that caused me to give the house another try-this time in the open front yard, and it was the information it shared that opened a whole new dimension to my life. Martins soon arrived. They did sing. They brought happiness and curiosity to my life and have become a source for me to spend countless hours each year learning and sharing the joy they constantly offer. They may not be "America's most wanted bird"; but they are mine. They might not be the "champagne of birds" to all; but having witnessed their bubbly personalities and gurgling song, they are to me. Some might argue that they are not our "tamest songbird", but I know of none tamer and more tolerant of my presence and intervention in their life. And as I applaud the wonderful job the PMCA and others have done, and are doing, to educate the interested public of most aspects for becoming a credible landlord, in the end, it is the Purple Martin that bears the torch that graces my life. They have become a PRIORITY in my life, and I suspect in many of your lives as well.

To declare something a priority contemplates one's authentic commitment. True priorities in life can be verified by how one spends his/her time, money and energy nurturing that relationship. For example, most of us would declare that our immediate families are one of our highest priorities; but if we don't spend a significant amount of our time, money and energy nurturing that relationship, it is really not a priority at all. If folks want to ascertain what their priorities really are, I would suggest that they keep a journal of how they spend time and look at their checkbooks. By doing so they will learn what their priorities truly are.

A decade after putting up my Heath in the wrong location, I now have multiple houses and gourds at two different locations 100 miles apart. They have replaced houses and gourds that have been enlarged, modified in every way imaginable, hung in different sequences with different types of entrances, made to raise/lower differently, and that bear the scars of diatomaceous earth, Sevin, smeared mud, enamel paint, elastomeric paint, spray paint, etc. Two of my bedrooms are currently filled with new houses to hang next year, and the roof of each garage is covered with large hanging gourds to replace the current supply, and another 4 or 5 dozen gourds lie cleaned and in a large box on the floor with no space left for hanging. Since discovering the forums in the year 2001, things have taken a turn for the worse. More of a fanatic I become with each passing year.

As a mentor for several landlords in recent years, in talking to others about their martins and in reading the forums, I have concluded that the information sought by our community often divides into three basic inquiries: 1) How do I attract Purple Martins?, 2) What should a good landlord do?, and 3) Will my Purple Martins return next season?

Each of the those inquiries can become fairly predictable and reliable action taken if a person merely joins and participates as a member of the PMCA, reading the Update and securing old issues. If you are on-line, participation in the forums and exploring various web sites can provide cutting edge answers to questions 1 and 2, and enlarge the positive probability of the third-will they return?

The fourth question - the important one that we don't like to think about.
I suggest that there is a fourth question. Removed from the picture, it is one we often choose to ignore. I submit; however, it is the most important of all, and one that needs to be addressed and acted upon now. For if you have accomplished inquiry 1, and done the study and work to adequately fulfill 2, then it is probable that inquiry 3 will show the annual return of your martin colony. It is a time to seriously address the fourth inquiry, WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY MARTINS RETURN AND I AM NO LONGER HERE?

It has been said that one hundred years from now people will not remember what kind of car we drove, the size of our house, or how much money we had in our bank account. (They won't remember if, or how many, Purple Martins we enjoyed either). But, they might remember what we took the time to teach a child. They might remember what we, as a Purple Martin conservation community, individually and as a whole, leave behind to enhance the future.

Friends, I wish I could point to a web site or other location that had all of the answers to inquiry 4. Ideally, the inquiry would not raise a multitude of other questions, and I would be smart enough to address more than a few options in this article. For I very much believe, that ultimately, this will be the inquiry that determines the fate of the bird that has so lovingly shared its life with us, and how we address this inevitable question is, in fact, our last testament (or gift and acknowledgment) to the Purple Martin.

For each, the answers to inquiry 4 will be unique, but I would suggest that the overall effect of our actions will be tested as would a priority. How and when have we channeled our time, money and energy toward enhancing the future of Purple Martins? Is our effort one that will have a limited or long term impact, or does it fall somewhere in between?

As a condition to submitting this article to Update, I first wanted to know the position of the PMCA regarding its future growth. PMCA has been a wonderful support organization of my efforts as a landlord, and I doubt that I would have ever attracted and grown to love martins except for the vast wealth of information that PMCA shares with us all. I have found its information to be highly credible and have supported PMCA with my time, efforts and money. Yet I was concerned that it might not be postured to be a perpetual organization. As I learned, it is in fact currently plotting its long term future, and I am assured that its members will see more of its well thought plans in the months and years ahead. I am satisfied that the PMCA will remain a viable instrument of education long after I'm gone, making it a good vehicle for me to travel with into the future.

In recent years, the Purple Martin Conservation Association has seriously addressed education and the development of a curriculum to be used in sharing martins with students of all ages. It has prepared information sheets and other tools that can be shared in this endeavor with continued emphasis on how we as landlords and as a group can assist in helping educate the masses. PMCA hopes to acquire a larger site and build a public observation and teaching facility that would become a public attraction. It will continue its research, data gathering, and dissemination of helpful information and services. PMCA will continue to succeed-if we support it with our time, money and energy.

It would be nice to conclude this article by addressing what PMCA will or will not do, and I am sure it will continue to address many questions posed by inquiry 4 in the months and years ahead. But ultimately, inquiry 4 is about what I will do, what unique legacy I will leave for the Purple Martin. Ultimately it is my question to answer, just as it is each of yours. So, where am I?

Short term, short solution. I have some very well designed and attractive housing. Shortly after my last investment I determined that my heirs have no interest in pursuing the hobby. I have arranged with a well qualified landlord with whom I frequently share martin projects to dispose of my housing when I can no longer effectively manage it, either by moving it to a location of his choosing, or assisting subsequent occupants at my locations. He is younger and likely to outlive me and will do a good job of this request. Likewise, by mentoring other landlords and working with still other experienced landlords, I have generated sources to reestablish my housing. I have included in my will specific references of who will take charge of my housing upon my death.

And that about sums up how to address inquiries 1, 2 and 3. Pretty easy you say.

Long term, long effects. This deals with what we teach the child. It is how we support those that will teach in the future. It is what we leave that people might remember. Much is offered by PMCA and other organizations in this regard. It involves mentoring. Teaching. Inviting a class of school children to come over and look at your housing. To see and identify martins and other birds. To see the eggs, touch the babies; to watch birds fledge. It is learning to hear the martins' song; to hear first attempts at communication. To watch the fledgling try to follow its parents, to see it try to land those initial futile attempts. To see and understand the migratory roost. What the young learn is what we will teach them, and the importance they place on what they witness will depend on the attitude with which we teach. There is no greater source of good communication than friendship and love, and each of us is capable of sharing these. We are all called to share our knowledge and become teachers. This is how we can best spend our time and energy, if martins are truly a priority to us. We are limited only by our imagination, and it is endless.

Of those whom I mentor, three are teachers, and I am working with two of these to offer a curriculum that will include visits to my colony, in hopes that they will ultimately use their own colony site as a source of education. I have donated most of my replaced housing to my mentees and provided financial contributions to further assist them. A school yard abuts my backyard and I foresee the students continuing to observe our friends the martins as the kids play on those grounds after I have shared my love of martins with them. They will learn what I can share with them, and continue to learn on their own, but, I must plant the seeds.

Sharing financial resources. The ultimate success of raising public awareness and knowledge about Purple Martins bears a direct relationship with the financial resources available to educate the public. The goals of the PMCA , or any credible conservation organization, cannot be obtained without finances. They need our money now, and they'll need it after we're gone. Our contributions, no matter how large, or how small, all assist in continuing conservation and educational efforts.

One pattern that I have developed that offers a great sense of satisfaction is trying to balance my own expenditures for my martin colony with donations to assist others. That is to say that when I expend money on my colony, I try to give an equivalent amount to PMCA or a needy landlord to assist them. I have found these periodic smaller donations easier on my budget then a single larger donation. This pattern might not be possible for everyone, and it is difficult for me; however, I have learned that a sense of wealth is not achieved by what I acquire in life, but rather, in learning to live without-by living my life more modestly. And I have experienced the joy of helping others and have seen proof of their attempts to, in turn, help still others. And so often the success of other landlords in my vicinity directly contributes to the growth of my colony, and vice versa. By sharing resources and talents we are benefiting all landlords as well as Purple Martins.

We should not naively fail to recognize that some peoples' resources just don't allow a contribution of finances in any amount as they struggle to make day to day ends meet. That's okay. So often these are the people who best reach out with their time and energy to help others. Still there might be excellent opportunities to make a financial contribution to an organization without stressing the family finances. Frequently, some of the most effective charitable giving occurs at time of death, usually through allocation of life insurance benefits or through testamentary gifts (that take effect upon death) made in a will. These are simple to initiate.

With regard to life insurance, whether it be a personal policy that the donor, or giving party, has had for a lengthy period of time, or if it is some sort of group policy or accidental death policy, the holder or owner of the policy need only contact the issuing insurance company and designate a charitable organization of his choosing to be the beneficiary of all or a part of any proceeds paid on death. Usually a beneficiary designation form is required to be signed, although some agents for the insurance company will make that change for the requesting party. And it is always a good idea for that person to notify the recipient charity of that election so that it might plan accordingly, and be in a position to help accomplish the transfer if necessary. At time of death, the insurance company will generally pay the value of the policy to the named beneficiaries upon receipt of a death certificate and completed claim form. Insurance policies offer a great opportunity to make a fairly substantial contribution to the causes that have been dear to the deceased landlord, and still leave significant amounts for other causes and loved ones. The call is not to leave all of your money to PMCA, or other worthy organization, but to leave some of it.

Utilizing your will or Last Will and Testament is another popular device to make significant contributions in acknowledgment of causes you champion. It allows you to leave a portion of your assets to another person or organization to be used as it chooses or as you direct, such as limiting the use of the gift to educational, research or other purposes. And these gifts may be of cash or of property, such as land, stock, jewelry, private collections, automobiles or other things of value. Upon your death a person designated in your will is given authority to act in your behalf and accomplish the purposes that you have set forth in your will. Under the laws of most states certain debts will first be paid, followed by distribution of special gifts, or "bequests" as they are called, with the remainder or "residuary" to be distributed to your named beneficiaries. The person in charge, known as the "executor", or "executrix" if a female, will be given the latitude expressed in your will to sell certain properties before distribution, or to distribute as per-item properties directly to the named beneficiaries.

If you do not currently have a will it is suggested that you see a lawyer about preparing one. Wills are generally inexpensive and you should feel free to shop around to find someone who can prepare your will at a cost acceptable to you. If that is too expensive, try to locate forms to assist you in doing your own. Often a charitable benefactor will help you accomplish your wishes. It is a vehicle by which you can express in a final writing that which was important to you during your lifetime. Those who read your will and benefit from your gifts will know of and come to appreciate those causes that were dear to you during your lifetime, including your spouse, sons, daughters, and other loved ones-those who might someday proudly exclaim, "hmmm, Purple Martins, those were something my father really loved." And it is that type of expression that tweaks the interest of others to learn more about, to support and pursue such causes.

If you already have a will and would like to make a special bequest, that too, is simple. You merely do a "codicil" or amendment to your will to add an article called special bequests and therein make your gift. The codicil should be signed in the same fashion as your will, before a notary public or other official qualified in your state to administer oaths, together with the same number of witnesses and in the same fashion. Of course, if you have used a lawyer to prepare your will, it will most likely be a fairly simple process for him to add an additional article to your will.

I have made no attempt to hide my respect and support for the Purple Martin Conservation Association in this article. It may or may not be the vehicle you choose to acknowledge your love for the Purple Martin beyond your lifetime, but it is mine. PMCA has gotten me to where I am today, and that is a place I very much treasure. PMCA has the strength to best accomplish those future goals which I feel important.

I feel very blessed to have had Purple Martins as part of my life-style for a number of years and wish that relationship would last forever - that there would always be another season for me to anxiously await their return, but I know that it will not always happen. Someday, and I know not when, the Purple Martins will return, cheerfully gurgling around my house, and I will no longer be there.

One hundred years from now people might not recognize the legacy that I leave my friend the Purple Martin; however, as I conclude this article I know in my own heart that I have done something today, and will continue to do things as long as I can, that will help those same people have an opportunity to write other articles about Purple Martins for those who will follow them.

That, friends, is my last testament to the Purple Martin. What is yours???

John Barrow nurtures his martin colonies in Corpus Christi and Port O'Connor, Texas. He is a practicing attorney with offices in Corpus Christi. He has served as Judge for the City of Portland, Texas for over 25 years and is an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where he has taught a graduate level course in business law designed to prepare accounting students to pass the legal section of the CPA exam. He has two grown sons, Luke and Justin, and has served as a park and forest ranger in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He enjoys all outdoor activities and one or two indoor activities.

Copyright 1998 by Purple Martin Conservation Association. All Rights Reserved.

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