Birdhouse Paradise of Bill Larkin
Bill Larkin was a young man in the 1960s. Now he lives alone in a geodesic dome filled with Christmas lights and birdhouses. Outside, the yard is packed with more birdhouses. Thousands and thousands of birdhouses.
Okay, we thought... Bill Larkin is an old hippie who loves birds.
We were wrong.
"I don't care about birds at all," Bill said as he walked us around the yard. Far from being a counterculture rebel, Bill spent decades as a coder for the U.S. military. "I was locked in a room writing computer programs with no window, no color," Bill said. "I just wanted color!"
When Bill retired, he planted flowers around his dome home (He was called "Flower Man" in those days). "Then in 2011 I could not get any rain," he recalled. "And I said, 'I am not gonna drag a hose around the rest of my life.'" Bill needed a drought-proof, colorful Plan B. "I said, 'I'm gonna build birdhouses, and paint birdhouses, and bring rocks in here and paint them, too.'"
Bill told us he had arthritis, an artificial knee, two bad hips, and "no balance." When we visited he was bandaged and bruised from falling on his rocks. Bill said he had more than 20,000 rocks, and that he'd just spent months repainting them all, one by one. "Oh, I missed that one," said Bill. We couldn't see what Bill was talking about. Bill pointed to a single, slightly pale rock in the middle of a hundred others.
We asked Bill if anyone had ever suggested that he had OCD. "Oh, lots of people have," he answered with a laugh. "They'll say, 'You got a problem, don't you?' And I'll say, 'Yep, I probably do!'"
Bill may be crazy (he calls himself "Crazy Bill") but he's happy-crazy. A sign by his driveway encourages new arrivals to "just laugh and have fun." The attraction is free and Bill refuses to accept money donations from his visitors (although he will accept a six-pack of cheap beer). And he gives everyone who visits a free Bill-painted birdhouse. "Last year I gave away 2,000 little birdhouses and 900 big birdhouses," he said. "I would have given away more except I ran out."
Inside the dome, Bill shows us his birdhouse assembly-and-painting-studio downstairs and his living room upstairs, where he has a half-dozen overstuffed recliners. Visitors can lean back and gaze toward the vaulted ceiling, where the walls disappear into a twinkly galaxy of tiny lights, butterflies, and birdhouses. Outside, trees have been turned into living totem poles, birdhouses sit on row after row of Bill's hand-built multi-level racks, and the painted rocks follow the contours of the land. "Everybody asks, 'How did you plan this?'" said Bill. "There was no plan. I just went nuts. That's me!"
Completing his break with his digital past, Bill said he does not own a smartphone, tablet, or a desktop computer.
Despite Bill's friendly sign and irresistibly cheerful yard, Bill said that people sometimes drive out to his place, look, and then don't stop. "They're either too lazy or too scared to get out of the car," he said. His open-door policy has its own drawbacks; one couple walked into the dome just as Bill stepped out of the shower. "I said, 'Can you wait just a second? I'm naked,'" Bill recalled. They were kind enough to change one of Bill's soggy bandages.
Bill may feel bland about birds, but birds like Bill; his yard is filled with the sounds of their fluttering wings and contented chirps. He said he plans to keep building and painting birdhouses even though he's run out of room; now he erects them across the street and deeper into the woods (Its owner has given Bill permission to keep going). Plus he has to maintain his inventory of free birdhouses for visitors.
"People ask me, 'How do you afford your habit?'" Bill said. "I tell them, 'I'm retired, I get a check once a month, and I use it all on this.'
"And I have fun," Bill added. "If I fall down, I just laugh."