Lessons Learned from a Woodpecker

{transcribed from the back of receipt paper}

[see also: another midnight rant.]

No, this isn’t the woodpecker in question because he flew away before I had the presence of mind to grab my camera. But he looks like he could be a distant cousin…

I sit by the window on an incredibly uncomfortable bench (but it is worth the gray view of the mountains) and watch him drinking from the rusty looking water in an equally rusty looking white bird bath. He landed there a moment ago, his black wings with squares of white flashing as he pirouetted to a perfect landing. I wouldn’t touch that water (or the bowl for that matter) except to knock it over and spray it with a hose. It looks like the accumulated refuse of ten years worth of rain and dirt. He bobs his head in, flashing red from his cap, then glugs it down — birds use gravity to swallow, so he throws his head towards the sky as he does so.

I suppose he’s thankful.

I mean, it’s free. And he’s a free bird, so why should he not be thankful. It may be rusty and grimy and yicky to a cultured girl, but to a woodpecker, it’s an easy place to find refreshment.

I’ve grown too cynical to believe anything in this world comes free of charge. I’m even starting to think to myself that the little woodpecker will have to pay for that water — with some kind of horrible, rust delivered, disease down the road. Everything comes with a price.

Rumple knows of what I speak.

If a man pays a young woman a compliment, it’s a veiled attempt to lure her into accepting him. No one falls for those FREE VACATION scams because we learned our lessons at the expense of other’s stupidity. We may be given gifts, but someone had to pay for it, and they’re probably secretly expecting a favor in the future. We live in a world of give and take, or rather take and take, and if someone gives it to you, hoard it. Or suspect it. Don’t tell me these thoughts haven’t crossed your mind as well. I’m not saying it’s completely true. But it’s not always a lie either.

But maybe some things really are free. Like the solitude of stars and the song of empty woods. Beauty is free. Grace is free.

Well, no. It’s not. But while I was waxing philosophical, the red headed woodpecker has flown away- his absence marked by the rings of rusty water bulging outwards. He cares very little for my ramblings.

I took my private pilot’s test today. Airspace. VOR’s. The effect of frost on wings. Runway markings. Weight and balance and computing center of gravity. He probably wouldn’t understand any of those things even though he is a flyer himself like me. Or he understands them perfectly and in the most natural of ways. “The air is mine,” he says, “Except for where the crow makes her nest. Stay clear of her and her children.” He shakes his wings. “The weather is cold — I will stay in today and preen my feathers.” He sees how the branches tilt one way and knows which can support his delicate weight. His weight that is perfectly balanced and streamlined for the most exquisite aerobatics any pilot would be thrilled to match if he could only make his metal wings obey.

I hope Mr. Woodpecker appreciates these things. This silly earth born must struggle and pay for every foot of altitude she steals from the sky, and obey rules she does not always understand… yet. To spread her wings and be born aloft on the wind requires systems, plotting, logic, instinct, time, money, and metal to go where the bird has been master since the world began.

If he could understand me, I doubt he would sympathize. Why these wobbly giants have to fill the sky with their noisy contraptions is probably beyond his range of understanding.

But we want to feel the sky too. Even if it means adhering to maps and rules and metal boxes that smoothly crash to earth each time they land — we want to fly. You may not know the wealth of your freedom, but I will take my lessons from you and recognize everyday that I have a capacity only winged things could once attain.

“Silly-two-legs-no-feathers-or-wings,” I think he would say, “You dream too much.”

But then again — he’s a bird. He should mind his own business. He should let a girl without wings of feathers dream of wings with letters and numbers.

Ah, another thing that comes free. Opinions. The one thing we often don’t want anyways.

Oh well. Perhaps we will meet in the sky one day. Until then: tailwinds and happy landings.



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