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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Every once in a while I see a big pileated woodpecker in the woods. Yesterday, it came rather closer: from the window I saw him (or her: Sibley tells me after the fact that the male has an extra splotch of red under his crest, and memory failed to record the detail, what else is new) poking around all the fallen trees and stumps in the yard. It was a warmish day - maybe the ants were venturing out, carpenter ants, that is, his favorite food. There was no thrumming or drumming or calling, unfortunately, just sedate wandering from stump to log and occasionally waddling up and down a living tree for variety. The waddling was a bit comical - crest bobbing, legs spread, knock-kneed - not only going head-first up but especially butt-first down. One can see why Walter Lantz, the inventor? sire? father? creator? of Woody Woodpecker used Mr. Pileated as a model. That and the crazy laugh - but did all those little kids in the buttoned-down 50s and 60s know that the laugh and the drumming were territorial and sexual?

Woody has gone the way of the dodo, and I'm sure the real-life model is equally adrift of the attention of the modern kid. I recently met a teacher who works with school kids in an ecology center. The kids love being out in the woods, she said, but are almost completely ignorant of nature. "That's a real toad?" they squeal, having never seen one. And these are kids not from Brooklyn or Dallas but from Topsham and Brunswick, Maine, with woods and waters all around.

Speaking of dodos and toads, it's said in Washington that the proposed legislation called No Child Left Inside has a chance of being authorized as Obama tries to revamp educational standards in this country. Does NCLI need a mascot? A little drumming in the dead wood might be just the ticket.

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