A Gila Woodpecker Rings in 2017

Is it by the least expectation or the most that we discover beauty and joy?  I realize my blogs have taken shape through a series of walks, mostly in the same area.  How daring is that?  No trams nor trains, no underground or light rails; my financial advisor pushes me to take at least one international trip a year, to jump at the chance of last minute destinations.  Enjoy while you can, he almost threatens.


And so I’ve rambled–both physically and as a wordsmith–along the same sand-packed trail, really a happenstance path evolved between a suburban development and older farmlands.  An ecotone: a zone, a concept identified years ago by a wandering Walt Whitman who noted this boundary between ocean and land.  A bardo,  place of ambiguities.

The premier nature writer, Barry Lopez, writes of these crepuscular zones and of his own Oregon forested acres he’s frequented for over forty years.  Walking there, though familiar, he always finds something new.

Now that’s adventure,  what Rilke called creative waiting.  What I’ve called “a habit of landscape.”

And so this brings me to the Gila Woodpecker.  New Year’s eve day I identified one pecking away at a thin, wintry, surely brittle mesquite branch, miles from its usual habitat, the Sonoran desert of Arizona.  Known best for their foray into the giant Saguaro cacti, the dun-breasted and zebra-backed picidae is making the best of his current environment–40 degree scrub Chihuahuan desert–yip-yip-yipping (his call) in between rattling knocks. He’s so intent I come close and stand awhile, appreciating the racket.  He tolerates my voice.

It’s the eve of 2017 and–knock on wood (yes, bad pun intended)–we walk into the new year perhaps fearful, resisting, but with the hope of not merely survival and adaptability, but a persistent beauty rendered in surprise, in noticing something different along the same old trail.

We writers are witnesses, and hopefully discoverers too.



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