Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Suburban Wildlife Adventures, vol. 1

We love our little lower-middle-class neighborhood in Richmond's West End. Little ranch houses everywhere, neighbors who talk your ear off, big old trees making Spring gorgeous and Fall raking hell, and lots and lots of birds. We even have a mated pair of hawks living in a tree next door. I watched them for about fifteen minutes yesterday, crying their love song to each other while soaring in great, lazy circles far above my house. It's all quite idyllic.

Except for the woodpecker.

Now, I have no problem whatsoever with woodpeckers. This particular species, the hairy woodpecker, is more attractive than most; he sings a nice little song, and he's got a cool little red crest on top of his head (I like to think of it as a little Phillies or Red Sox cap, tilted jauntily upward in hopes of a late-inning rally). I even love the sound of him tap-tap-tapping on the local trees, eating up bugs and providing percussive accompaniment at the same time.

The problem is that he thinks our house is a tree, and that he goes scavenging on the bedroom side in the 6 o'clock hour of every morning.

It started about a month ago. I work hours that are, shall we say, irregular, and am often at home during the day. One fine mid-morning, while typing on this very computer, I heard what sounded like a large machine gun coming from the upper corner of my room. BRAPAPAPAPAP! Needless to say, it was disturbing. While we rent this home and don't own it, I was afraid something was wrong with the pipes and that they were about to explode and shower water down on my delicate studio equipment. Then I remembered that it's a one-storey house, and that there are no pipes up there. In fact, there's nothing up there that could be making that sound.

BRAPAPAPAPAP! There it went again, from a little way to the left. I had no idea. Maybe with the warmer weather the sun's heat was expanding some part of the house's construction. That seemed somewhat plausible, though I didn't relish the idea of having to hear this racket every day.

BRAPAPAPAPAP! Once more, farther down, then silence. I had no idea. Not wishing to alarm my wife (and being generally forgetful), I said nothing of it.

It happened again a few times, just twice or three times a week, before Karen noticed it. She shared my concern that something was wrong with our house, and that we would have to call our landlord. It always seemed to be in the mid-morning, and just occasionally once or twice in the afternoon. We had no idea.

Then, on a particularly sunny day, I heard the sound here in my studio. I chanced to glance at the window and saw the flash of a shadow; that of a small bird flying away from the site of the noise. It wasn't until a few days later that I spotted the culprit sitting in the yard, his red rally cap mocking me.

Mystery solved. Aggravation just begun.

The darned bird has decided that the early dawn hours are peak time for pounding on our house. And let's get this straight: this is not the cute little rat-a-tat-tat that you hear when woodpeckers are on a neighborhood tree. This is the sound as heard inside the tree, a jackhammer-like rapid-fire pounding that cuts through the deepest early morning dream once, twice, seven or eight times. As I lie there I pray that each repetition is the last, thinking, "You great stupid bird, there is nothing for you to eat inside our roof!" I'm pretty sure he's actually rapping on the metal of the rain gutter, which you'd think would blunt his enthusiasm--and his beak--but apparently not.

So we are one with nature. We are enjoying our idyllic suburban life, raking and mowing, buying a ladder to clean out the gutters, raking, comparing ourselves with the Joneses, and of course raking, secure in the knowledge that, should a power outage render our alarm clocks inactive, our red-headed friend will wake us some time between 6 and 6:30, whether we like it or not.

Thank God for Daylight Savings time, at least.


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