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.