Wathens create nature getaway

Published 3:39 pm Monday, January 24, 2011

Jim Wathen has created a backyard designed to attract birds and butterflies. Here, Wathen is wearing his signature classic beaverfur hat. He is a familiar face in Helena and the fix-it guy a the annual Buck Creek Festival. (Contributed / Laura Brookhart)

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

Jim Wathen enjoys being around interesting people and says he loves a good story.

He and wife, Renee, have created a nature getaway in back of their Old Cahaba home to enjoy solo or to gather friends and spin a tale or two of his own.

Wathen built not only a gazebo and the deck, which has built-in seating and drink-rests, but has enthusiastically accessorized the area stepping down into the woods with more than 35 bird and butterfly houses, which he assembled from scrap materials.

There are windchimes made from piping salvaged from building jobs; split-rail fencing and a collection of gnomes from his father’s former yard in Indian Springs; and various other finds, such as the children’s school bench with an animal menagerie inset into its back.

“I’ve been trying to get Southern Living out here for years to do a story on my retreat,” he said.

“Soon we’ll have ‘windows on the world’ for our creatures,” he added, pointing to some small-paned windows laid out to hang among the assortment of birdbaths, tree people, old shoes used as marigold planters in warmer weather, a couple of restored hand plows and other artifacts that are rusting themselves toward a more naturalized patina.

There is the wishing well, built from discarded bricks according to plans his daddy first used, that Wathen uses to smoke meats.

It is festooned with lucky horseshoes, a genuine maple syrup bucket that works handily for icing drinks, and a hummingbird feeder made from a Budweiser can with a red-handled hose spigot perch.

“We bless the birds and the beasts — St. Francis is represented, too. We bless our pet possum, who comes by for his personal fruit treats, and we ring Mrs. Flaherty’s farm bell each time Alabama scores,” Wathen said with a grin.

Wathen, whose business, Jimsco, started with doing odd jobs “because I don’t like people to be without things they need fixed,” evolved into licensed contracting work from “A to Z.”

Wathen checks weekly on each of his neighbors to be sure all is in good repair at their homes.

Wathen, who grew up a “cradle Catholic” in West End, attended Blessed Sacrament Church and the nearby school, and has been active in getting the Renaissance and Romanesque-style church, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary, recognized by the Jefferson County Historical Commission.

He is now pursuing placement on the State of Alabama and National Historic Registry.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by e-mail at labro16@yahoo.com.