March 15, 2015
The singing began toward sunset, the palpable long trill of a red-winged blackbird. And there is never a lone red-winged blackbird, so I know the ponds and wetlands are about to come alive with the thrilling songs. The males have sere wingtips and an under-layer of cream yellow tufts. The females are extremely maternal and will drill your head with a beak if you come too close to a nest.
And yesterday two blue-brown sandhill cranes landed on my bluff and slow-strutted around piles of brush and timber. I watched them with binoculars, knowing how rare it is for cranes to be up bluff. The males can be four feet tall. They have red feather slashes along their heads. They are great fathers.
In my yard are redheaded woodpeckers and red-shouldered hawks, both species with heads the color of rage. In my yard are cardinals and red housefinches and scarlet tanagers, flame throwers all.
I have always like redheads. The great Cab Calloway sang George Gershwin’s song about them: “A Redheaded woman makes a choo-choo run its tracks.”
My mother’s side of the family the Jones’s from Scotland, were redheaded. Me, I was strawberry. In the early 70’s, when my partner Steve Hagerman and I were Hagerman and Blue on the folk music circuit, a hippie girl walked up to the stage during a break and whispered, “Are you a real redhead?” Some people are skeptical.
My Grandpa Glen was called “Red.” He and his sons Jess and Dewitt had tempers. Glen, like all Mother’s kin, was very short (I am the monster exception). But he had piercing blue eyes. He bossed oil well crews and he scared the riggers because he was all action and they were all talk. He once shot a sheriff on horseback in the ass. The sheriff had ridden out to the drilling site in Texas and attempted to rob the men. Grandpa pulled his Colt .45 revolver of the kind you see on Westerns, from his lunch bag, circled around the sheriff, put the gun to the man’s right buttock and fired. The sheriff went to prison.
I shot a rattlesnake with that Colt when I was six. Grandpa kept me overnight at a drill site—I slept in his trailer—and we walked into the desert. He located a rock and knelt and crouched and listened. And I heard the rattling. Glen handed me the pistol, told me to just thrust it forward, the snake would line its head up with the gun. He grabbed the rock with both hands, overturned it and jumped back towards me. I held out the gun and fired and fell on my little white butt. Grandpa cut up and fried the headless diamondback and we had it for breakfast.
“Don’t tell your mother.”
I was to hear this repeatedly from every Jones man who lived.