Tuesday, March 23, 2010

`I Am Willing to Omit the Gun'

In January the landlord and I spent 12 hours over several days insulating all of the south wall and parts of the east and west walls of our house. I’m not handy but the landlord, an engineer for Boeing, enjoys the work and he’s good company, a gifted, foul-mouthed story teller and listener. I lost a Saturday but gained two warmer, drier bedrooms and the respect of a fellow bullshitter.

Last week, before dawn, we woke to the sound of the Creusot steam hammer pounding on our bedroom wall. The noise was as loud, rapid and unvaryingly annoying and tiresome as a drum synthesizer. I assumed it was a woodpecker but the culprit was their equally beautiful and irritating cousin, the Northern flicker. By Saturday he had drilled eight holes, some more than an inch in diameter, into the newly insulated side of the house, and pulled a bushel of insulation – cotton candy-looking stuff – out of the wall and dropped it to the ground where it formed pink drifts.

The landlord restuffed the insulation, bolted steel strips over the larger holes, filled others with Bondo and hung shiny bands of foil from the eaves (I thought of Hopkins: “like shining from shook foil”). Sunday morning the bird was back, gleefully hammering. The landlord returned, resealed the holes, and sanded and painted them. I hung aluminum pie tins, which I had to remove Sunday night, while already in my pajamas, because they clattered too loudly in the wind and kept my wife awake. By Monday afternoon, no sign of the flicker, visual or auditory. Perhaps he has moved on to pinker pastures or succumbed to the carcinogenic qualities of home insulation.

I’m not alone in my flicker-related peevishness. The bird drove even Thoreau, arch-bird lover, to deride the “flicker cackle” and moved him to at least contemplate violence. This he wrote in his journal for May 3, 1852:

“Plenty of birds in the woods this morning. The huckleberry birds and the chickadees are as numerous, if not as loud, as any. The flicker taps a dead tree as some one uses a knocker on a door in the village street. In his note he begins low, rising higher and higher. Is it a wood pewee or a vireo that I hear, something like pewi pewit chowy chow? It requires so much closer attention to the habits of the birds, that, if for that reason only, I am willing to omit the gun.”

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