This Thing Called Courage

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Of Woodcock and Vonnegut (Which is, Of Course, Not to be Confused With Sixpence and Lucy)


A NUMBER OF FRIENDS HAVE COMMENTED, "Joe, you're getting obsessed with this Woodcock," and it's true enough-- in fact I am revelling in it. God knows it's cheaper than cocaine and much more enjoyable than, say, a stick in the eye or an abusive lover. And now that I know this wonderful, bizarre creation with its even more astonishing, bizarre mating dance lives in my own backyard (i.e., The Fells) and has been observed 400 yards from where I lay my head at night, I am delirious as only the obsessed can be. But (there is always a but!) since I have made this amazing discovery the weather has devolved into a November-ish, Hawthorne-esque, Longfellow-esque New England Nor'easter gale. Essentially it's been raining since Saturday night (here it is Tuesday at 11) and the wind is rattling my house on the hill tonight as much as it did Sunday night. I am anxious about my Timberdoodles (a common name for American Woodcock) and have been haunting the field down the street where they were observed (but not yet by me) every night since, though I skipped tonight as it was far too miserable for man or Timberdoodle. Saturday night I think I got there too late, or maybe it was the raw, cloudy weather-- or maybe Fionn (whom I brought with-- probably not the brightest thing I've ever done) discouraged the performance. At any rate, below is THE VERY BEST SOUND WAV I HAVE FOUND THAT GIVES BOTH THE NASAL PEET OF THE WOODCOCK BEFORE HE TAKES OFF AS WELL AS THE CRAZY WHISTLING SOUND HE MAKES ONCE HE IS AIRBORNE. Anyone know how I can download this on my phone? Such things are beyond me. Check the calls out, the link is in the paragraph below:


"The other time when a woodcock is likely to be observed is during its elaborate courtship ritual; but it is the call of the woodcock that will first attract your attention. The American woodcock will make several nasal peenting sounds before it launches into the air, spiraling up to 300 feet and then returning to the ground in what can only be described as a controlled fall. While in the air a twittering sound emanates from the bird - a combination of vocal calls and wind flowing through specially designed wing feathers functioning as musical reeds.

Listen to the American woodcock. (Real Player required)The sight and sound of the woodcock's sky dance cannot be adequately described. One needs to observe the phenomena to fully comprehend the intricacy, absurdity and wonder of the performance. So, pick a warm still evening in early April, head towards an open field (if it has a low boggy area, all the better), walk and listen for the telltale "peent" or "zeeeep", and then try to see (moonlit nights will be best) nature's whirling dervish - the American woodcock."


Finally, a shout out to a great man of letters, Kurt Vonnegut, who died last week. Like many American writers of the Old School (and it makes me feel old to say that) he was a man of keen social/political observation, and would no longer NOT comment on the current state of affairs than, well, than most of today's writers apparently would. His second-to-last book was God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, in which he imagines that he has been 'temporarily' killed by Dr. Jack Kevorkian for the purpose of going to Heaven and interviewing the famous and not so famous. In one of these imagined interviews, Vonnegut meets one of his life-long heroes, the now almost forgotten Eugene Victor Debbs, (1865-1926) who was a five-time candidate for President under the Socialist Party, when this country still had a sizeable Socialist Party (if one can imagine such a thing). Debbs was also the organizer and leader of the first successful strike against a major US industry (the railroads). Vonnegut begins the interview by telling Debbs that one of his favorite quotes, which he uses often in speeches, is one by Debbs, in which he said, "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it; as long as there is a criminal element, I am off it; as long as there is one soul imprisoned, I am not free."


After saying this, Vonnegut is asked by Debbs how these words are received nowadays on planet earth in general and the USA in particular.

"They are ridiculed," Vonnegut replies. "People snicker and snort."

Then Debbs asked what our fastest growing industry was.

"The building of prisons," I told him.

"What a shame," he said. "And tell me," Debbs added, "how is the Sermon on the Mount going over these days?"


Before Vonnegut can answer him, however-- Debbs spreads his wings and flies away.

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