There I was, striding through the beautiful January woods, obsessing about all the bad things that had ever happened to me, vowing bloody vengeance on my enemies, plotting the downfall of civilization – you know, the usual – when suddenly I heard wingbeats.
Of all the music in the world, my ears are the most finely tuned to wingbeats. Since I’ve had quite a bit of experience with birds hurtling either toward or past my face, I can usually gauge the size of the bird, how far away it is, and how fast it’s traveling without actually having to see it. This one sounded like it was quite sizeable, going at a good clip, and about a micromillimeter away from my ear.
In a flash, I came up with two options. Either: 1) the Higher Power, fed up with my interior diatribe, had sent someone down to fetch me for a consultation; 2) the resident goshawk, who on several occasions had tried to behead me for treading too close to her nest, had seized the opportunity for an off-season ambush.
I glanced to the side just in time to see a Pileated woodpecker soar over my shoulder, do the woodpecker dip, and disappear into the woods. I don’t know if it was male or female, as I only saw a brilliant blur of red, black and white, and then its back as it flew away. But it had been right there, right next to me.
My jaw dropped, and was quickly replaced by a huge grin; I probably shouted, “Oh, wow!” or something equally clever. I looked around and spotted an old dead hemlock, riddled with holes. This amazing bird must have been on the tree right in front of me as I walked down the trail, and I was too preoccupied to notice. People – well, birders, at least – tend to fall to their knees at the sight of these creatures, and I just walked on by. What a bonehead, the woodpecker must have thought. I’d better teach her a lesson.
My mind cleared, the mayhem fell away. The woods are filled with wonder.
Last week I met an incredible group of women, and one was really good at making up fortunes, like the ones in fortune cookies. So in honor of them, I will give it a try.
Appreciate the beauty of life before it collides with your face.
Second photo by Gary Fairhead.