~knock on wood~

July 6th, 2017


On the way back down from a midday run, I paused to see if my eyes had played tricks on me as I’d passed the lodge on my way up the valley. But indeed, there in the grass beneath the postbox was a woodpecker, a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. It sounds like a vaudevillian insult, but they aren’t chickenhearted, just burnished golden and loving of tree sap, which they graciously share with opportunistic hummingbirds.


My emissary was male–they have that lovely red throat, which they show off in courtship. He was strangely angelic folded in my hand, both familiar and mysterious. To Native Americans, a visit from this spirit animal is a reminder to march to your own drum, to the heartbeat of mother nature, to invite the shamanic. It’s also a totemic call to attention, to opportunity soon knocking.


The message I conjured was in the woodpecker’s steady, focused communication, as in tapping Morse code or measured braille-like rows. Woodpeckers don’t sing, they tap (or tattoo) to claim territory, lure a mate, and alert their mate to predators and food sources.


Whatever my visitor may foretell of coming days, he also gave me the gift of knowing him better. I’d not realized the black neck ruff is actually iridescent green, nor how much like pinfeathers are those that make up that bold red. I’d never noticed the iconic spots are so polka-dotty, nor seen that formidable beak at close range.


The best secret, though, was the twin feathers at the tail’s peak that split black and striped, right down their center. I bathed, dried, and fluffed this bird’s feathers to best honor him in these photographs, and before I’d finished it felt as though he’d been given a final task before crossing over: allowing me to prepare him for it. Wood to woodpecker: honored.

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