Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Southern Song

 Photo by Bryan Stone

Poised on the edge of the hollow, the pines and blackjack oaks spread out before me. I sit on a bench that once was a swing. No longer supported in its cradle, but firmly in place on cinder blocks, it offers its presence as a place to linger, to let the expanse unfold in front of anyone who spends even a moment there. To the right is an old pine snag bearing witness to a bird of wonder. The huge square holes are telltale of visits in the not so distant past of something big, motored by wings. The bird which works in this way searched for a favorite food, carpenter ants.

Though I have never seen, and will likely never see, a Lord-to-God bird, this relative holds as much fascination for me. I wonder if it should have some similar epithet, perhaps the Prince-of-the-Pines? Its voice is not melodic, yet distinctive. I have seen these birds many times. However, it is not necessary to see this bird in order to know it is out there. If truth were told, then I must confess that this bird is found in northern forests as well as southern forests. But my experience is southern. The bird and I first encountered each other in Deep East Texas—The Piney Woods. As I traveled down the highway from Lufkin to Jasper, it streaked across the sky in a strong and determined flight. Huge and with a crest, this almost all black bird with a chiseled beak, what could it be?

Photo by Roy Smallwood

The last few years have seen reports of the Lord-to-God bird as still being alive and hiding in deep, old growth, and largely inaccessible swamp forests. Is it possible? Most people who have claimed to have seen it probably have seen its relative instead.

Upon this bench I sit in quiet repose as the evening sets in. It will be a clear autumn night with a harvest moon. Still while light remains, I wait and listen. Then, there, I hear it, the southern song, a call in the conifers, the accelerating “wuk-wuk-wuk-kuk” of the Pileated Woodpecker. Another answers. One more behind me joins in refrain. With this many around me one hopes of a viewing. But no, the call is made on the move. If ever there was a chance, it faded with the setting of the sun.

I care not to see it suffer a similar fate as the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. Perhaps, it has a better chance, having adapted to many different forests and even to the encroachment of man. Excessive logging can and did take its toll, though. Wisdom, brought on by the disappearance of the Ivory Bill and many other species, cautions us to be mindful and vigilant of our deeds. Mankind must factor in the consequence of his actions not only for his own kind but for the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea, the every thing that crawls on the earth. It is not enough to say that there are many, even thousands around. Remember the Carolina Parakeet? Thousands blackened the skies all along the eastern US, and now there are none.

Upon this bench I sit and wait, listening. I want to hear the southern song all the rest of my days. I want my children to hear it too, even when I am gone.


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