June 25, 2013

Outside my writer’s window is a giant maple tree with four main trunks fanning out. The southwest trunk has formed a huge arch, actually touching the downward slope of the hill. A pileated woodpecker lands on that arch every morning and hammers at it.

Sometime in the last few days I noticed that the scartlet-headed bird, the second largest woodpecker in the U.S., had landed and was watching me intently. Every day since, it lands, watches me, then beak-hammers.

This morning, Scout the Cat (I named her after my friend, the writer Horton Foote, who wrote the screenplay for “To Kill A Mockingbird”) was asleep on the windowsill. The pileated landed on the tree arch and fixed its gaze on the enemy of all birds. It gave its standard screech, waking the cat.

Scout stood and fluffed out her fur, making a third bigger than she really is, her tiger stripes swollen and pulsing like a nest of snakes. She watched the woodpecker and began to tremble and make a mewling sound. The bird dove from its arch perch straight as the crow flies, landing on the outside sill, cat and bird now nose to beak through the window screen.

The bird shrieked. The cat, reaching back to Pleistocene roots, to her ancestor sabertooth tiger, emitted a guttural growl, a sound so primeval, beyond Edenic, from the days of cats eating Neanderthals and Solutrians, then she spat and hissed, unhinged her claws and swung at the screen.

The woodpecker screamed, “Fuck me,” (or so I imagined) and fell off the sill. The cat growled and stood guard. I touched her back, and my predator/companion, who gleefully gulps spiders, ants and creepy-crawleys, looked as though she wanted to eat me.

The pileated woodpecker, with its Woody Woodpecker flame of head feathers, landed back on the tree arch and taunted us.

But tremble, o tremble did the majestic bird, for it had looked into the claws of death and lived to remember it.


About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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