It was a perfect Saturday morning with a cloudless sky. I stood on my front porch and watched sparkling light bouncing off of the funky garden in the front of my little house. I felt alive. My fatigue from lack of sleep, two early sessions and a hard week was offset by the fact that I was going to see my Honeybun that weekend. My Honeybun is my thirty something daughter who has made her life in New York. She is lovely, and when she visits there is a radiance that comes with her. This time she was coming for brunch on Sunday with some of her tribe after they worked on the presidential campaign here in Philadelphia. Canvassers were not needed in New York. This time together would be a few hours of bliss for me, and I wanted it to be special for her and her friends. I soak up youthful energy when I’m with them.
I got busy polishing my house. It’s funny how I want to impress my daughter. Mama still has it together, even though my endless energy is gone. I can still do a cool party.
I did the necessary and unnecessary. Although the tribe was not spending the night with me, I still felt compelled to get every speck of dirt. I got hyper-focused on getting the grunge off of the mat in the bottom of my bathtub. The laundry sink in the basement was the only place to do that just right.
My art studio is also in my basement so when I go there I always have a feeling of excitement and anticipation. There are possibilities in the basement. I had that feeling as I did the mundane task of filling the sink with extra hot water, detergent and Clorox just in case there was some mold left on the mat. Just as I finished setting up the soak, I heard a sound coming from the back part of the basement. This is the part of the basement I call the light box. It has three high windows, and even though it is the lowest part of the basement, part of the addition built in 1925, the sun comes in at just the right angle, hits the white washed walls and shimmers. The glow overshadows any creepy feelings that come with the low ceiling and distance from the stairs. I want and need to spend a lot more time in the light box. Nothing else feeds me like my art. I’ve been away too long, my energy being soaked up by other preoccupations.
I heard the sound again, it was a flutter. I said, “There’s something back there.” I talk to myself a lot, one of the eccentricities of living and working alone. I was intrigued, not frightened. I needed to know. “What’s there?” I said out loud. I slowly entered the light box, and there, fluttering against the window, was a bird. Not a little sparrow, but a good sized intricately feathered long beak bird. “What are you doing here?” I asked. Another eccentricity of mine, talking to creatures that I see in the yard, on the porch, in the flower beds. But in my basement, I couldn’t get over it. “How did you get in here?” The bird initially gave me none of its time and energy. It was about the business of finding its way home. “Okay, I’m going to help you get out. I still don’t know how you got in here.” At that moment, the bird stopped and gave me a look straight in my face. Its head slightly tilted to the side, it said, “Ok, do it!” I opened the window, which only served to agitate the bird more. The fresh air coming through the screen increased the illusion of the possibility of escape. “Ok I’m going to try and open the screen.” I couldn’t. Security screens don’t just pop out. I couldn’t make it happen. I felt horrible as the bird flew from one side of the room to the other in frustration. “Okay, I’m going to figure this out,” I said out loud. To myself I took an oath: I can’t let this bird starve in here or worse yet die from exhaustion and fear. I consider myself a “MacGyver.” Most of time I have a plan B. Food. I’ll set a trap with food in the bottom of a bucket and let it go. Folly! My bird friend had no interest in raw pine nuts and wild rice from my pantry. Plan C. I’ll gently cover it with a towel, hold it and take it out through the door. I borrowed a towel from my art supplies and approached the bird from behind as it stared longingly out of one of the windows, pecking at the screen in frustration, not getting that openness did not mean freedom. “I’m going to be gentle, I’m not going to hurt you.” I slowly approached. I didn’t want it to hurt me either. I could feel its body in the towel and just when I thought I could caress it enough for capture, it let out what sounded like a squeal. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, okay I won’t do that again.” What now? I put in a call to my friend who calls herself a canine and lives in the middle the woods. Maybe she’ll have some ideas. Voicemail!
I perched on the basement steps for a few minutes weighing my options. The woodpecker perched in a corner. I felt its exhaustion and desperation, but I also knew in a short time its attempts to find a way out would start again. This bird was not going to settle for being imprisoned in this place it did not belong. I then thought of my brother.
My brother is a self-taught naturalist. He sees the world of nature with an attuned mind and an open heart. I always say he should have been a forest ranger. I dialed his cell and got his voicemail, too. “Brice, I’ve got a situation here and I need your help.” I tried to make my voice lighthearted. He called back immediately. I could hear the panic in his voice. “It’s ok; I’ve got a bird in my basement.” “Girl, you scared me to death.” We got through the family dance of fear, and I described what was happening. He asked diagnostic questions about the bird and about the house. “I think it’s a woodpecker.” My contribution. He explained in his usual detailed and patient manner, “The bird is going to follow the light. You have to create a single source of light and the bird will follow it to freedom. Block off the windows in the basement with cardboard or whatever. Block out the light on the first floor except leading to the way out. Put a light at the top of the basement stairs; make sure the basement door is open. “OK got it.” I followed his instructions to the letter, closing all the blinds on the first floor, turning off every light, and I opened the back door so that the glass security door was the only source of light. I moved one of the lights from the living room and plugged it in at the top of the basement stairs. Everything was ready. I turned off the basement lights and waited. Nothing happened. Back to the basement to check. I had forgotten a task light in the light box room. I was relieved that I could fix the problem. I returned to the upstairs and sat quietly in the corner of the sitting /dining room. I was prepared to wait for as long as it took. Quiet. I heard a flutter, and then a louder flutter. The sound of the flutter began to be a bit longer and louder. I got excited. “It’s coming up the stairs.” Before I could breathe again, I saw it fly across the dining room straight through the kitchen to the back security door. It perched on the iron trim looking out. I moved quickly but quietly and opened the door. It flew out, immediately souring toward the sky. I felt elated. The woodpecker was free. “He’s out!” I told my brother. “You are a naturalist,” he said. “No you are.” We said goodbye. I was amazed by how thrilled I felt. I texted my daughter. “The bird is out.” I had told her what was happening in the midst of one of our calls about plans. Later, I talked to my friend who lives in the woods and told her the story. “It sounds like you were not freaked out at all.” “No, not at all. I was one with the woodpecker.” My friend said, “What a powerful message – a single source of light being the way to freedom.”
We have this practice of looking up animals that show up in our lives. “I’m going to look up the Woodpecker totem.” I found the longest commentary I’ve ever read about an animal totem. But one line is serving as a source of light for me right now. If the Woodpecker flies into your life, it is telling you that the foundation is there. It is now safe to follow your own rhythms. I needed this message.
I know for sure I will be learning from my time with the Woodpecker for a very long time.