May 5, 2009

Nature gone mad

WE HAD A NICE SUNNY DAY for a change last week. The boat was in the slip at our home marina and I was sitting in the cockpit, soaking up sunshine, thinking about doing some work but not actually doing any, when a loud metallic rapping sound caught my attention.

It was coming from a sailboat two or three slips south of mine, but I couldn’t see anybody aboard. The rapping stopped and then started again. Rat-a-tat-a-tat! Five seconds on, 10 seconds off. Definitely something striking metal.

Then I spotted it. A bird, perched on the spreaders, was attacking the aluminum mast with a long thin beak. It was a Northern Flicker, quite a large, handsome bird, but obviously quite dumb as far as woodpeckers go.

Flickers are supposed to eat ants and beetles and soft squirmy things they find in old rotting tree trunks. Flickers are not supposed to drill holes in aluminum masts. Mind you, they’re not supposed to drill holes in the thick wooden posts that hold our marina walkways in place, either.

But this one did. I recognized him immediately as one of the occupants of a large hole excavated near the top of a mooring post a few yards aft of my boat.

I presume he was the male because the mouth of that hole was filled with the face of another Flicker, an anxious looking face, a face that might well have been wondering where supper was for her and the little ones.

You, too, might have been anxious if your beloved breadwinner was beating his brains out against a metal mast instead of bringing home the bacon. I don’t know if all Northern Flickers are this mentally challenged, but this one probably had a good excuse. The wooden pole that he hollowed out for his family was lavishly smeared with a preservative called creosote. It’s a liquid chemical I used to splash around with abandon at one time, but which now suddenly has become a noxious substance and a carcinogen, to boot.

Now you might imagine that a woodpecker with a normally adjusted woodpecker brain and Nature’s usual system for tasting things would stop excavating a creosote-soaked pole after the first bite and fly off to the woods somewhere, where nice woodpecker-friendly trees are crawling with delicious bugs. But no, not this one. I fear it’s too late. I think the creosote has got to him.

Now I’m trying to think of ways to keep him off my spreaders, should the mood take him. I don’t want a dotted line around the middle of my mast. But I’m thankful I’m not the owner of the pretty Baba 30 down at the end of the walkway. She has a pretty, varnished, wooden mast. I hate to think what’s going to happen when our crazed Flicker finds that out.

Today’s Thought
To those who study her, Nature reveals herself as extraordinarily fertile and ingenious in devising means, but she has no ends which the human mind has been able to discover or comprehend.
—Joseph Wood Krutch, The Modern Temper

“Mom, why are you shouting at that motorist?”
“Well, look how close the idiot is driving in front of me!”

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