Back in my angsty early teen years I fancied myself a poet specializing in verses about lovely things and turning them into depressing things which, when you are 13, is just about everything.
And so I penned the following and left it on my desk in the hopes my mother would find it and overturn her decision to not allow me to see The Exorcist because I was too young:
The whippoorwill sings
His loneliness and pain
It will be the last song I hear
Before I die.
I thought the “before I die” line was particularly dramatic and imagined someone – Robert Redford, perhaps – reciting my whippoorwill poem over my coffin, then returning to his seat among the mourners, but not before delivering a withering glance at my bereft mother, who now knew the consequences of the sentence, “when Debbie’s mother pays your room and board and puts up with that mouth of yours, then she can decide what movies you can and cannot see.”
These days I’m convinced the whippoorwill is a bird that can only be loved by a 13-year-old drama queen; or, rather, a slightly deaf 13-year-old drama queen.
A year ago, while Dirtman and I waited for an occupancy permit for the house we live in now, we’d come here to visit and putter around awhile. We’d leave at dusk and one early spring evening a whippoorwill gave us a send-off from a distant tree. We looked at each other with rapture. His song reminded me of growing up in what was left of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. It reminded Dirtman of vacations in a fishing hut next to what would become Lake Anna in Virginia.
We sighed. We would once again hear the whippoorwill in the distance as we drifted off to sleep in our perfect house.
Now we live here. And so does the whippoorwill – not off in the distance, but right next to our bedroom window. Show times have changed, though, to 12:30 a.m., with special performances at 4 and 5 a.m. or whenever you are just about to drift off to sleep.
Sometimes the racket can last up to a half hour, during which the bird call no longer sounds like its onomatopoetic name, but more like an animatronic Disney puppet gone horribly dysfunctional (if, like me, you were subjected to the Pepsi exhibit during the 1964 New York World’s Fair and came out of it wanting to cram a screwdriver in your ear, do not click this link).
What’s worse is that every night the stupid bird circles the house as if I’m running some sort of whippoorwill brothel.
My handy dandy Virginia Birds book assures me that there is absolutely nothing we can do because whippoorwills cannot be frightened away and are very rarely visible. It’s hard to eradicate something that sounds very annoying but you never really see – like Gilbert Gottfried.
We were also enamored of hearing the rat-a-tat-tat of the woodpeckers in the trees. And there is nothing more fascinating than seeing a huge Pileated Woodpecker hanging off your suet feeder.
Then one morning the clacking sounded strangely loud and we imagined we could feel the vibration. It turned out it wasn’t our imagination. One woodpecker had taken to banging his beak on our back deck.
Then there was the romantic idea I had of squirrels happily playing in our yard. Last fall I actually uttered this sentence: “Gee, I wish we had some squirrels we could watch collecting nuts.”
I was thrilled when some finally showed up. And it was interesting until the squirrels found another pastime: tormenting the Parson Russell Terriers. The squirrels make a game of standing just on the other side of the fence, highly visible, but safe from the dogs’ yapping jaws.
We, however, are not safe from the noise. No amount of reprimanding prevents any terrier from alerting the neighborhood to the presence of rodents in the area. I have a mind to toss the two dogs over the fence and let them have at it. But I have this Snow White memory of furry woodland creatures (courtesy of Mr. Disney again – the man has ruined my life.).
But at least the woodpecker and the squirrels confine their antics to daylight. We are entering our second week of sleep deprivation. If the whippoorwill doesn’t get laid soon we’re going to have to move.