I spent this weekend at Rivendell Writers’ Colony, the most peaceful place on earth. It was my second visit to Lost Cove in two weeks: last time I was staying at a friend’s retreat cabin a bit further down the bluff from Rivendell. Like the rest of the Tennessee, Sewanee was crippled by a terrible drought last fall, and my friend was worried about the birds. “Please keep an eye out for the pileated woodpeckers while you’re there,” she told me before I left to head up the mountain. “I haven’t seen one since the drought. I’m worried.”
There was no sign of a pileated then, but I’ve been hearing them all weekend long this time. I was determined to get a picture to offer my friend as a thank-you gift for the use of her cabin, but the bird kept eluding me. Pileated woodpeckers are gigantic, one of the biggest birds in the deciduous forest, and they have great red crests, too. How hard could it be to find one when I could hear it perfectly plainly?
I walked the sixty acres of this writers’ colony, up and down the paths, several times a day for the past three days with not even a glimpse of my quarry. Then, early this morning, I startled a woodpecker busy yanking big hanks of wood out of a long-downed tree. In an instant, before I could register anything more than its unmistakable red crest, it was airborne. With a kind of stupid awe, I watched it fly away from from me, absorbed by the glory of its undulating flight and with no thought at all of raising my camera.
While I stood there, a group of white-tail deer galloped through the trees at a full run, close enough for me to see their bobbing tails go by but so well disguised I had no idea of their number. And darting among the golden seed clusters at the tops of the elm trees, goldfinches were feasting, so perfectly matched I knew them only by their call.