It was another crisp sunny summer day in the Cascade Mountains of Western Oregon. Throughout the vast wooded miles of the Willamette National Forest, hundreds of crystal clear lakes serve as collecting basins for the rain and snow that fall each winter. If lakes could boast, Waldo could be proud that it is the headwaters of the powerful Willamette River. The river flows north though the expansive valley, dumping its treasure into the mighty Columbia 150 miles away. But since lakes and rivers don’t boast, Waldo is simply content to sparkle like a pristine jewel reflecting an azure sky.
This morning the bird populations living near the nurturing lake gathered to honor Rusty Eagle. Two years ago, the giant bird had risked his life and saved many of their number from being incinerated by a raging fire that swept through the forest along the mountain range’s western ridge. Rusty’s eagle eye had spotted the fire coming and he spent exhausting hours alerting unaware birds in its path.
In a large clearing near the southern edge of Waldo Lake, the celebration was about to get underway. Many birds were already settling into the choice spots near the speaking stump.
Bartley Crow, on his way to the meeting field, stopped by to rouse Zack Woodpecker from his nesting hole near the top of a tall pine. Bartley (who really liked to be called Bart), wanted to get a perching spot near the speech-giving stump in case he were asked to say a few words, which, of course, he expected.
“Zack! Up and to it… man, let’s get over there,” the shiny black crow said to the sleepy woodpecker. He reached into the dark hole and nudged Zack with a persistent wing. “Rusty’s big … He’s a star!” he shouted into the hole.
“Yeah, I guess,” Zack said climbing out of his den to join Bart on a nearby limb. He touched his crimson crown, smoothed his ruffled feathers into place and halfheartedly repeated, “… I guess.”
“You guess? You, gotta know, man… Rusty is eagle… eagles are about as big-bird as you can get.”
“He’s big,” Zack agreed matter-of-factly.
“If truth became known, you’d rather be an eagle than a woodpecker, wouldn’t you?”
Zack eyed the pesky crow. “I never thought about it…” He moaned, “eagles are eagles and woodpeckers are woodpeckers.”
“And crows are crows, I suppose you’re going to say?”
“They are, aren’t they?” Zack said scratching at a bug scooting across the trunk of his pine. Rat-a-tat and it was gone.
“Sometimes I wish I were an eagle too, Bart said wistfully. “Someday…” his word trailed off. He rapped his beak a couple of times on a nearby branch. “Listen, let’s get going before it gets too crowded… let’s get going,” he repeated and fluttered into the air taking flight toward the edge of the lake where the festivities were to take place.
Before taking off, Zack rapped a few times on the hollow log on the ground beneath his nest. It sounded like the drumming call for something important. When woodpeckers are around, there is a lot of such drumming. One last rat-a-tat, then, he jumped into the air and flapped vigorously to catch up with Bart. The two birds settled on a pine branch near the stump to wait for the presentation.
Bart thought he ought to be the emcee, but… the bird committee representing various communities of birds living near the crest of mountain range asked B. Belted Kingfisher to be spokesperson for the occasion.
Nearby, Stella Jay rested on the ground holding an attractive medallion intended for Rusty. It was a large yellow daisy with a dark brown center. Sunflower seeds, pine nuts, and acorns attached to a thin shoot of a hop vine, encircled the bright flower.
“Good enough to eat!” Bart thought, eying the medallion.
Melody Chickadee was the early bird. She’d arrived long before she thought any other birds would be there. She cuddled two chicks as she squatted on the ground near the speaker’s stump awaiting B. Belted Kingfisher’s words. As other chickadees began joining Melody, the sun was appearing just above the trees to the east.
Before long, whole communities of birds had gathered to honor Rusty and hear what he would say.
It was a colorful and diverse gathering. Next to the cluster of chickadees stood, Kathy Coot, her family and other Coot families… and Gracie Bluebird, Noel Cowbird, Cooper Hawk and his friends as well as Amy Kestrel, Linda Lark, and Frank Meadowlark… Dozens of other Willamette bird species completed the huge crowd gathered to celebrate their eagle friend.
Jasper Screech Owl, Turkaloo Vulture, Ranton Raven and Foxy Sparrow kept watch on the four quadrants of the meeting space for any sign of predators, who might want to take advantage of so large a gathering of distracted birds.
B. Belted Kingfisher hopped onto the stump, cleared his craw and began. “We are here today to honor our great friend, Rusty Eagle…”
Cheeps, caws and other bird utterances echoing off hills in all directions, broke the still mountain air.
“Wanda Warbler composed a song for the occasion, Wanda…,” B. Belted continued inviting Wanda to take the perch.
Wanda appeared nervous, but she took the flower medallion from Stella, moved onto the stump, turned to B. Belted and said apologetically, “It’s a poem.”
Then she turned to the masses, struck a pose and began.
“Of all the birds that fly… in the sky,
Rusty Eagle soars higher than high.
He’s a powerfully giving friend,
Who did us selfless service in the end.
The fire was coming too fast our way,
But Rusty saved us at close of that day.
We give him much honor today, right now,
His name, this emblem, goes up on the tall pine bow.”
Cheep, cheep for Rusty Eagle, cheep, cheep for Rusty Eagle and so forth.
Wanda smiled, timidly bowed, hopped over to Rusty, handed him the flower. She curtsyed and then jumped from the stump to the clapping wings of hundreds of birds. Rusty nodded and waved warmly to the numerous flocks.
“Pretty doggerel stuff,” Bart said to Zack under his breath.
“Doggerel!” Bart repeated and after looking at Zack’s confused face said, “It’s lousy poetry.”
Sounded good to me,” Zack said shifting his weight.
“That’s because you don’t get it,” Bart snickered.
B. Belted Kingfisher took the stump. “Fellow Waldo birds and friendly guests from nearby lakes, running brooks and secluded woods. We are gathered today to honor and thank Rusty Eagle for his selfless assistance to our communities at a perilous time.” A gaggle of cheers arose from the gathering of birds.
“Thank you from the bottom of our craws, mighty eagle friend.” …More caws and cheeps… “This flower medallion in your honor will be placed on the thanksgiving pine,” he said pointing to the earthy symbol. Cheers went up from all.
Rusty raised the medallion above his head and moved it in a circle for all to see. Then he leaned the honor symbol against the speaking stump and hopped onto it. He surveyed the sea of faces and then spoke.
“Thank you for your kind recognition. It is warm joy for me to count winsome birds, such as you, as friends. May we continue to foster safe and healthy feathered communities everywhere… thank you.” Much applause. “Now, I must take leave of your generous hospitality… other friends and soaring adventures await me to the north.” He touched the medallion affectionately, spread his wings lifted from the stump and climbed into the air.
The multitude cheered as Rusty became a speck against the pale blue sky. There was much chatter as the crowds of birds disbursed each to go their own way.
Finally, only Bart Crow and Zack Woodpecker were left to command the now vacant gathering field.
Bart cocked his head just so, eyed Zack and clawed the ground with an impetuous strike. “You just don’t get it,” he said grinning at the sometimes-clumsy woodpecker.
“You said that before,” Zack said annoyed and rat-a-tat-tatting the oak stump on which the speakers had stood. “What don’t I get?” Zack continued striking at a carpenter ant dashing for cover in a crevice in the stump. “Drat! Missed it!” Zack snapped giving the dry bark another rat-a-tat-tat.
“Don’t know doggerel verse when you hear it… If it’d been a real dog,” Bart drawled proud of his play on words, “it would have bitten your butt feathers….” He paused and laughed before continuing, “Man, you’ve never been away from this patch of woods your whole life, have you?”
“Nah, guess I haven’t… so what?”
“Besides not knowing anything… nobody ever pays any attention to you, do they?” Bart derided shattering the silence of the forest with a loud, “caw.”
The big, black bird’s yell sounded to Zack like a derisive laugh. “Attention? What’s that?” Zack asked giving the tree another series of rat-a-tat-tats.
“Other woodpeckers looking at you… You know, saying, ‘There goes Zack Woodpecker… just look at him… see how he dresses… he’s got style… he knows how to talk… we shoulda picked him to give the Rusty talk…’ All looking at you… admiring that red streak on your jaw and the crimson crest on your head.”
“Why would they do that? What’s wrong with my dress? All boy woodpeckers – I mean men woodpeckers have red streaks and crimson crests.”
“But … haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to be special … to have … what’s her name? What’s your girlfriend’s name?”
“Georgia Ann,” Zack answered involuntarily.
“Yeah, Georgia A., looking at you in awe…”
Zack cocked his head as if to say, what on earth are you talking about.
“Birds … not just woodpeckers… but all birds making over you like they do the eagle… making way for you like a god, when you hop by or fly into their midst?”
“No… guess I haven’t… why would I want birds to do that? I get along at Waldo Lake just fine… don’t I?”
“Ah… you think you do… you think you do because you’ve never known anything else. You don’t know what it’s like out there in the rest of the world… that’s what,” Bart bragged flapping his huge wings to settle on a branch near Zack. “You ever see a big?”
“I think so… Once in a while one or two… a bunch will launch out onto Waldo Lake in a scooped out… something… looking for fish,” Zack said.
“Man… you are lost,” Bart said stressing are with derisive punch. “That’s not really seeing them… I mean in the rock forests where they live…. You’ve never seen them at their preening best… you gotta do that!” Bart paused, studying the woodpecker’s confused face. Then, pointing a deliberate wing toward the west and with tempting tone asked, “You want to see?”
“I don’t know …”
“You wouldn’t be scared… would you?” Bartley teased.
“Never been away from Waldo,” Zack said plunging his beak into the oak’s bark once more. “Got him!” he said swallowing the defenseless bug and continuing “Yeah, I’d be nervous … uneasy.”
“Caw, caw,” Bart chided, “You sure ended that bug’s uneasiness in one gulp. How does that make you feel?”
“Awe man… no fair… we live on bugs… you know that!” Zack protested.
“Yeah, and bugs live on… you see what I mean?” Bart asked giving his point a cutting twist.
“You can’t make me feel guilty… Woodpeckers have always eaten bugs. We’re made to eat bugs… and,” he hesitated, then added, “Awe man … crows will eat anything…”
Bartley interrupted, “Okay, so we live on the food chain too. The point is… it’s time you saw something other than Waldo, Waldo, Waldo, … snow, rain, rotten logs, fern, sheep sorrel…”
“Hey, don’t forget the mosses: Bryophyta … liverworts … hanging everywhere and sparrows, hawks, owls, slugs and on and on. And eagles…” Zack added proud of his knowledge of the habitat around Waldo, “And I know Rusty Eagle. He’s not from Waldo Lake…”
“…. Listen, Rusty doesn’t count… Have you been to Rusty’s pad? No, face it! Everything you know is small time stuff… too narrow, like your brain … too timid, like your heart. Knowledge is power… think about what you know… not much power there, is there? No recognition, no image, no clout? Caw, caw,” Bart laughed. “You’re just an illusive, invisible bird… a phantom. Nobody pays enough attention to you. Listen, you gotta expand your view of the world. You gotta see the world of the bigs…. They know how to strut… how to get attention… power. Come on!” Bartley said flapping his large wings and taking to the air.
Zack didn’t understand most of what Bart said… and he didn’t really want to leave Waldo Lake even for a brief look at the bigs, but Bart had filled the air with confusion and a certain magnetic curiosity. Overwhelmed, Zack swallowed hard, rose into the air and joined Bart. The white feathers on the underside of his wings showed prominently against the black feathers gracing his wings’ leading edge.
It wasn’t long before the black crow and the red headed woodpecker found themselves approaching the skies above Eugene. A big bird, whose wings didn’t flap, flew by Bart and Zack. The terrible noise it made was frightening. It flew faster than Zack had ever seen a bird fly. The big bird settled on the ground kicking up dirt or puffs of smoke… like two tiny forest fires that came and went, just like that. Zack had seen large forest fires in the Willamette National Forest near Waldo Lake but nothing like this.
“Maybe he is right… there are wonders to be seen away from Waldo Lake,” Zack thought as he followed Bart.
Zack noticed lines of huge bugs crawling like ants along trails that seemed to snake in and out and among the stone structures crowded together on the valley floor. Bart settled on a resting spot near them. They were even bigger than he had expected. Bigs walked to and from them carrying pouches. The bigs opened the sides of the bugs, put their pouches in, then, climbed in themselves and the bugs would make a growling noise and scamper away.
“Never seen anything like this, have you?” Bart asked when he and Zack were securely anchored on the power pole cross bar.
“Nah… I haven’t. What are they doing… where are they going?” Zack asked confused at the scene unfolding before him.
“Bewildering, isn’t it? Come and go. That’s what they do… it wouldn’t matter where we settled to the ground… it would be the same… bigs… humans would be coming and going.”
“Humans…” Zack mulled the new word in his mouth and repeated it. “Humans … Why do they do that? At Waldo we can just stay right there.”
“Look at them… it’s attention… image… don’t you see it? They don’t have feathers like we do… they cover themselves with every imaginable kind of stuff. Oh boy, hang on a second… see that?”
Bart didn’t wait for Zack’s answer. He dropped from the power pole to a wad of something one of the bigs had tossed onto the hard ground near one of the bugs. Seconds later Bart returned to the perch devouring it.
“Yeah, crows eat anything,” Zack said watching Bart swallow the last of his find.
“We never go hungry… humans are such slobs…” Bart said showing Zack a discarded wrapping. “See the picture,” he said pecking at the golden arches before letting it fall back to the ground. “It’s a way they brag… you know… letting everyone know where it came from. And look at that,” Bart said gesturing toward a colorfully dressed big approaching a bug. “Like I said, humans don’t have feathers like we do… see what that one has on her feet?”
“That’s what they call shoes.”
“Shoes…” Zack mulled.
“Not just shoes … Gucci’s!” Bart said letting the weight of the designer name linger on his beak.
“Gucci’s,” Zack repeated the word. “Why do they wear Gucci’s shoes?” he asked hesitating on the strange word.
“That’s two questions,” Bart answered. “Why shoes? Number one, they got dainty, canary feet is all I can figure… too sissy to walk on rocks…” he cawed in laughter, “And the poor things get cold feet,” he paused pointing his beak toward an approaching big carrying a large bundle. “Keep an eye on that one,” he said before answering the second part of Zack’s question. “ Why Gucci? Now, that’s the 64-dollar flock-of-birds question. And what’d I tell you?”
“I don’t know,” Zack said, feeling ashamed he’d apparently missed something.
“Pay attention!” Bart said emphatically.
“I’m trying,” Zack returned weakly. “I never learned big language…”
“No! Not you! I thought you were a smart woodpecker… not a lame brained dodo bird. The Gucci wearer wants ATTENTION… Look at her! Attention is why she’s wearing Gucci… or she might just as well be wearing Bruno Magli Molly … or” he hesitated, “see the bag the man is putting into that car? The words on the bag say, ‘Neiman Marcus.’”
“Wow,” Zack kuk kuked trying to assimilate the overload.
“That means Neiman Marcus, whoever they are, wants attention… Neiman Marcus wants to be something special and the man carrying the bag wants other humans to pay attention… to notice that he’s been to Neiman Marcus,” Bart smiled at Zack, “And the letters on the back of that man’s car… It says, LAM BOR GHINI,” Bart mouthed the delicious word and repeated the word, Lamborghini… Now, that’s BIG even for bigs… You get it?”
“Seem pretty complicated to me … everything at Waldo is just Waldo.”
“Why do you think I brought you here?” Bart asked draping a black wing over Zack’s shoulder, “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Zack felt defeated. Why did Bart know so much and he so little? And why was Bart suddenly sharing his vast knowledge with a Waldo woodpecker? His thoughts were interrupted by terrible sounds coming from the ‘Lamborghini. The car seemed to be screaming at the top of its lungs and its feet started running so fast that they left two tiny forest-like-fires behind as it dashed away into the distance… earlier a gigantic bird… now a car kicking up fire… Zack scratched his crimson crown.
“Come on,” Bart interrupted, “let’s get closer to the entrance to the mall… that’s what they call these big clusters of stone buildings… malls.”
“You sure know a lot, Bart,” Zack said following the gangly crow across the grazing field to settle on the edge of a big stone log jutting some distance above the huge slabs of what looked like water, that kept moving to and fro letting ‘humans’ in and out of the stone structure. “How do you know so much about bigs?”
Shows how much you know about crows,” Bart said eying the crowds of people going in and out of the mall. “Crows are smart… we have to be… we live everywhere… not just Waldo… We’ve had to learn the ways of the world or be left out … better to say, ‘wiped out.’ It’s a hard cruel world out there. Living at Waldo you don’t know that… but it’ll come even to Waldo… better to be ready….”
“Whew… what’s that? Zack asked covering his nose with his right wing.
“Caw! Caw!” Bart laughed, “Humans call that smell ‘perfume’… that’s Sisley, I think…or Clive Christian… Maybe, Cartier… can’t be sure… at those prices I ought to be sure…”
“Smells terrible … Makes me sick… I think.”
“Got your attention, didn’t it? Wouldn’t you like Georgia Ann to smell like that? Or maybe, Bergdorf Goodman… there’s a pricy smell… one that’d make her special… make her stand out.”
“No way! I wouldn’t let her,” Zack protested.
“You wouldn’t let her?” Bart sneered.
“She’d be laughed out of Waldo.”
“What if all the lady woodpeckers in Waldo started wearing pretty smells… you think you could stop her?”
“That’s ridiculous! It’ll never happen in Waldo.”
“Look at that lady,” Bart said indicating a smartly dressed woman coming through the sliding doors. “She’s wearing Chloe shoes, Roper Fast clothes, carrying a Cole Haan handbag and sporting an Emporio Armani watch with a Brioni earrings and matching necklace…. How do you think she feels?” He didn’t wait for an answer, “Pretty special I’ll wager and I’ll bet lots of other women wish they could be just like her.”
“Well, not me… I’ve seen enough… I want to go back to Waldo…”
“Zack, Zack, Zack, my lad… You’ve seen only the tip of the crocus when it comes to calling attention to yourself. Look at you… brilliant crimson tuft of feathers gracing a shapely head… strong legs, strong jaw with a very noticeable red racing strip running along side your head… pretty impressive, wouldn’t you say? Not to mention the white feathers on the underside of your wings… makes you almost look like an eagle when you fly… makes you feel like an eagle, huh?”
“Kuk, kuk,” laughed Zack, “like an eagle… be serious… I was born that way.”
“Sure you were, but you’re okay with all that attention being so sharp brings you, right? And with a little makeover you might pass yourself off as an eagle… think about it… even become an eagle…”
“Na… awe… come on… You’re confusing me… I never thought about it before…”
“It’s time you did…. And with a little…” Bart paused for effect before adding, “STYLE, think what you could do and BE up in Waldo… an eagle… Critters who live around Waldo don’t even know what style is… Look at that girl big…” he said pointing to the teenager emerging from the mall. Her hair was parceled into patches of different colored strands sticking out in all directions. She wore bright, fiery-red lipstick. Her eyes were outlined in black. A cluster of silver earrings covered the outer contours of both ears. Silver rings pierced her nose, upper lip and her right eyebrow. She had on a denim jacket with silver buttons and studs circling the sleeve cuffs and accenting the collar and pockets. Chains hung from the large maroon leather belt circling her waist. The buckle on the belt simulated an open mouthed, fang filled gargoyle. Beneath her jacket the girl wore a red shirt, its collar sassily turned up in back. A dull silver scarf hung loosely around her neck ending at her waist just above the large silver carnation embroidered on the front of her black skirt. Showing prominently on back of her skirt was a large, embroidered, light blue pistol muzzle pointing at the observer. She wore black boots with sizable heels. Her red socks ended just above the boot tops and just below the knees. From a string around her neck dangled a large bathtub stopper.
Zack starred at the girl and those similarly dressed young bigs who accompanied her. Nothing he’d seen today made much sense to him… this latest exhibition even less so. Finally, he said, “I guess I don’t understand what style is… Everything is so different from Waldo.”
“That’s the idea,” Bart cawed stroking Zack’s back with a friendly left wing. “You have to see… those young ones want attention…and are getting it. I’ll bet they feel special.”
“Like eagles?” Zack asked sarcastically.
“Well… maybe,” Bart hedged, “or something just as good … or better… I don’t know what it’s like to be a human. Eagles are about as good as it gets for birds, don’t you think? …kinda like lions are to cats?” Then wistfully he concluded, “I’ve always envied eagles.”
Zack felt overwhelmed. He didn’t know what to say. He wished he hadn’t come or seen what he had seen. But now, he knew that, even if he went back to Waldo this minute, the world had changed for him, forever… He had a bad taste in his mouth… like he had eaten some type fruit he wasn’t suppose to.
“Hey, we’ve gotta move on from here. I’m not sure about woodpeckers, but crows I know… Bigs that run places like this don’t like us crows… Soon as they see us they’ll get nasty,” Bart said arranging his wings as though he were holding a shotgun. “Follow me,” he said lifting from the stone pillar. Bart led Zack to a park bench.
Zack wanted to quit the scene entirely and fly back to Waldo, but he didn’t and he wasn’t sure exactly why. He didn’t like anything he had seen… at least for him… “It must make sense to the bigs and seem to make sense to Bart,” he thought. “Taking flight and heading for Waldo makes the most sense,” he thought eying the dark green hills to the east and, then, thought of the glitter he’d seen at the mall. Now, he knew things he’d never known before. He felt the urge to tell Georgia Ann. “She’ll be impressed,” he thought. “What else will I be able to tell her?” he asked aloud hopping from his perch to the ground.
“I pay attention…” Bart clipped, joining Zack on the ground, and added with a grin of smug satisfaction, “… pay attention to what I pay attention to… words… the right words like Cadillac… like Alberti Fermani, Christian LouBoutin… words that are synonymous with quality… words that carry charisma… carry charm… words that have power…” he paused and added knowing that his comment wasn’t enough for the innocent woodpecker. “My man, crows are everywhere and crows pay attention … we’re made that way… and haven’t you noticed, we talk a lot… word gets around among crows.”
“It’s like you know too much.” Zack mulled.
“Can never know too much… knowledge is power and you can’t have too much power. Think what it would be like for Waldo woodpeckers to have the most power of all the woodpeckers… all the birds in the Willamette National Forest.”
“I think we… I ought to get back to Waldo and get my head back… can we go?” Zack asked helplessly.
“Let’s do it, but not before we collect some things for you to take back with you,” Bart soothed.
“I can’t carry anything… I’m a woodpecker, remember?”
“Ah… but you can… ‘Ferragamo,’ ‘Rolex,’ ‘Porsche,’ and for Georgia Ann, ‘Marc Jacobs.’ She’ll love Marc Jacobs.”
“It’s a smell… Before we go I’ll get you some samples … Bigs give them away like rain, and something else, to get you started,” Bart gushed, “a leg ring.”
“Leg ring?” Zack perplexed.
“Remember back at the mall … the girl with the rings in her nose, ears? You can wear one around one leg… that’ll look smart … get attention… you’ll stand out. Come on let’s go,” Bart said hopping from the ground and into the afternoon air. Zack followed.
The bigs were still busily scurrying in and out of the imposing complex. Bart settled on the stone pillar the two birds had occupied earlier.
“Wait here!” Bart commanded, “I’ll be back,” and without further explanation darted from the stone perch, through the mall entrance and disappeared among the bigs crowding the passageways.
Zack settled in to wait for Bart’s return. His head was swimming from the overabundance of stimuli he’d experienced during his day with the gutsy crow. All he’d ever known was the simple life of a Waldo woodpecker. He had been happy with that life… but now… thoughts, images new ways of seeing, new ways of knowing were sending shock waves of doubt, of possibilities into the matrix of his being. He was experiencing a new kind of fear.
Suddenly, Bart returned carrying several pieces of cardboard and several silver rings. He settled on the flat space beside Zack.
“Take a whiff of that,” Bart said holding the perfume sample next to Zack’s nose.
“Whew,” Zack said pushing the stinky thing away, “What’s that?”
“It’s ‘allure’ by Marc Jacobs. That’s what… Georgia Ann will love it.”
“No, she won’t… it stinks.”
“Scent is in the nose of the smeller,” Bart crooned, “And when she learns that it’s Marc Jacobs,” she’ll find it smells divine and so will all her girl friends and… you’d better watch out… so will the boy woodpeckers.”
“Nuts! That’s what it is…”
“Trust me, it’s not. Now, let’s put this ring around your leg,” Bart said slipping the glittering metal over Zack’s fingers and on to his ankle. “You know how rich that looks?” he asked cocking his head in admiration. “You don’t know how glitter attracts crows, do you?”
“I’m not a crow,” Zack responded surprised that he allowed Bart to get the ring on him without protest.
“Forest rangers put rings on bird’s ankles all the time.” Bart coached, “There’s an ugly vulture with a gaudy leg ring that hangs out on that tall pine at the north end of Waldo.”
“I thought she had a birth defect…” Zack mused.
“Look, I got some for myself,” Bart said producing five more silver bands. He struggled to get it over his ankle and onto his leg. “There, look at that… we match. Aren’t they smart… get us a lot of attention when we get home, don’t you think?”
“I’m afraid to think about it…” Zack said eying the silver band clinging to his left ankle, “Everyone at Waldo will laugh…”
“No they won’t. You wait and see. They’ll want one too, and I’m ready for them,” he said producing several more silver bands.
“Can we go home, now?” Zack pleaded.
“Lead the way,” Bart said pointing his wing east.
When the two birds were well on their way to Waldo, Zack observed, “You know what? You’re a thief… you stole all those rings, didn’t you?”
“Caw, Caw,” Bart laughed, “I’m a crow… that’s what crows do.”
“And you’re not giving them away are you?”
“Are you kidding?”
“What are you asking for them?”
“Corn, What else? Well, it could be a carcass or carrion of some sort, but corn’s tidier… I think 40 kernels of corn. I’ll squirrel … pardon the double entendre,” Bart paused to let the humor linger for Zack’s appreciation and for emphasis. “WE’LL squirrel corn away for the winter. Bartering for corn is a lot easier than foraging for myself, don’t you agree?”
“I’m catching on… It’s cheap, glittery leg rings and Marc Jacob smells now… but, when we get the Willamette League going, it’ll be mugs, tee-shirts, caps and so forth, right?”
Caw, Bart laughed, “Don’t forget image… We’ll be selling image too and self-esteem… through words… you know, BMW, Sax Fifth Avenue, Konstantino and all the rest. Before you know it we’ll have them buying the right to use labels… even saying Armani Collezoioni will cost you a handfull of corn. Humans are suckers for labels. Birds will be too.”
“You make my head swim,” Zack said struggling to keep up… “Woodpeckers’ wings are smaller than crows.”
“Leave swimming to the fish and otters… We’re fliers and soon, we’ll be the highest fliers around, you’ll see.”
Zack fell silent mulling the revolutionary world into which Bart had brought him…or was he conned or dragged or hypnotized? What ever had happened to him, Zack was certain that it would take him a long time to get back to being just plain Zack Woodpecker from Waldo Lake … if ever. That thought sent a tinge of fear through him. It was wholesome being ‘just plain Zack Woodpecker.’ The world into which Bart had taken him, seemed tenuous, ambiguous… uncertain. At Waldo Lake, he had been able to count on life always being the same day after day. Georgia Ann and his friends were at Waldo. And everyday the sun, wind, trees, bark, bugs… nuts and fruit… sometimes snow and rain… they were all there. Routine had called on him to spend much of each day finding food, following nature’s mandate that each bird in its kind prepare for winter. He was born with excellent, streamlined physical equipment for doing so. He had a sharp bill suitably shaped for reaching into the crevices in bark to find and extract illusive carpenter ants that in turn, had their own prey. He didn’t know why all this was so… but had never doubted that it would continue to be so. Bart’s challenge to remake his life at Waldo was… Zack’s thoughts were interrupted by Bart’s shrill caw.
“Shadow Bay coming up…. Wow… Something going on there… Look at that.” Bart said descending toward Waldo through the tall trees at the lake’s south end. Birds of all sorts covered the logs and narrow beach at water’s edge. “Some kind of convention, do you think?” Bart said settling on a top branch of a pine tree near the gathering of birds.
“Isn’t that Rusty Eagle?” Zack asked grabbing the branch below Bart. They had seen Rusty just this morning… and Zack wondered why the celebrated eagle would be visiting them again so soon. For whatever reason his visits were always special occasions. “Why are we stopping here?” Zack asked excitedly “It’s Rusty! … He’s back!”
“Hold on… Gotta think this through,” Bart answered swiping his beak nervously on the pine branch a couple of times.
“It’s Rusty… And there’s Georgia Ann… I want to tell her….”
“You got a ring on your leg, remember? And you smell like icky, sweet Blue Blossom… or something… we gotta plan, man…”
But it was too late, Rusty’s eagle eye had spotted the two wayward birds swaying precariously in the nimble branches of the friendly pine. “Zack Woodpecker!” the big bird shouted. Hundreds of bird’s eyes turned to settle on Zack and Bart. “Bart!” Rusty boomed, “Get your black carcass down here and touch my feather,” he said beckoning them with his huge right wing.
Zack looked at Bart hoping the wily crow would know what to do.
Without missing a beat Bart dropped from the pine branch and glided to a dead tree branch near Rusty. Zack followed keeping a keen eye on Georgia Ann, who rested on a thatch of grass near Rusty’s podium. He settled on the ground near her.
“What brings you back to Waldo so soon?” Bart asked bringing his ring-clad leg under his body in an attempt to minimize notice.
“What’s that awful smell?” shouted Janice Jay moving away from Zack.
Georgia Ann didn’t say anything, but looked suspiciously at Zack not believing that the offending odor could be coming from him.
“It’s ‘allure,’” Zack said weakly hoping his labeling the scent would be enough to span the gulf between the old life at Waldo and the new world the two wanderers were bringing in.
“Allure?” Georgia Ann repeated the new sound. The birds all eyed each other with confused suspicion.
“More importantly, it’s Marc Jacobs,” Bart gushed attempting to rescue Zack and ignite explosive fascination among the spectators.
“Marc… what… what kind of flower would smell like that?” Janice exclaimed wrinkling her nose and snickering.
“Marc Jacobs…” Bart shouted with gutsy bravado nervously shifting his weight on the leafless branch. “It’s not a flower… It’s a fetching smell. Go ahead… take a whiff of Zack …”
Terry Hawk, who was on the ground below Bart, bellowed and turning to other nearby birds laughed, “Get a whiff of Zack.”
“The smell isn’t for me,” Zack explained, “I brought it for Georgia Ann,” he said thrusting the cardboard sample toward Georgia, who had come to stand beside him.
“Zack! Why would I want to smell like that?” Georgia Ann protested avoiding the sample.
“Lady birds in Siuslaw love it,” Bart hopped up and down attempting to recover attention and take the initiative. The move revealed his left leg and exposed the silver rings circling his ankle.
Will Mockingbird laughed and presented a scoffing gesture at Bart’s leg rings and mocked, “Lady Birds of Siuslaw are wearing rings on their legs too, I suppose?”
“Yeah…” Bart blurted giving himself time to recover. “They do… only they’re called ankle bracelets!”
“What other stuff do they wear?” Silvia Grouse asked quietly.
“Some of them wear toe rings…” Bart said brightly sensing a convert.
“And nose rings too, I suppose,” Will jeered holding to his beak a piece of straw he had formed into a circle.
All the birds emitted thunderous laughter except for Bart, Rusty and Zack, who looked at Bart and shrugged as if to say, ‘Why don’t we just give it up?’
Bart brushed Zack with a consoling wing and plowed on “Yes,” he said, “you don’t believe it, but some do.”
“Rusty, you tell them… you know… you’ve seen,” Bart pleaded vacillating in his hope the big bird could persuade them.
Suddenly, silence fell over the Waldo bird community. All eyes turned toward the big eagle.
“What about it, Rusty?” Will asked breaking the silence. “Is Bart right or is he just…” Will paused savoring the word, “Barting us?”
Rusty stood to his full height. He was an impressive sight standing on the stump towering over the community for birds gathered at water’s edge. He raised a powerful wing in a sweeping gesture before he spoke. Then he said, “I can say this… Rogue River Lady Birds, don’t wear rings.”
Bart and Zack groaned.
Shouts of anger and knowing mummers and titters sounded among the other listeners.
“But,” Rusty continued dangling his thoughts before his listeners, quieting the crowd, “I’ve heard … Now, I don’t know for sure, but, it’s possible,” he teased surveying the anxious faces Bart and Zack and tantalizing the Waldo bird community. He paused again waiting a dramatic moment, than said, emphasizing the word may, “The Siuslaw Lady Birds may wear them.”
Groans of disappointment and chortles of disbelief were heard from several birds.
“See!” Bart shouted.
Rusty raised a restraining wing at Bart and said, “But I’ve not seen it…”
Pandemonium broke out. Shouts of ‘throw them in Waldo’ and ‘pluck them bald!’ shattered the late afternoon tranquility of the ordinarily peaceful lake. Some threw burrs at Bart and Zack slunk to the ground in anticipation of being spat upon or stoned or worse.
But Rusty flapped his enormous wings lifting himself into the air a few feet before returning to his perch. He shouted, “However,” he said with slow deliberation, “I have seen bigs wear rings around their ankles, around their toes … AND in their noses.”
Stunned silence returned to the gathering.
Rusty continued, “And I’ve seen rings in their ears, eyebrows, cheeks … and belly buttons…” and added with a tone of scandalous emphasis, “… and other unmentionable places….” He paused to give his words time to register.
A hushed mummer went through the startled flock. Zack looked at Bart for some sort of clue as to how he ought to behave. Bart, caught off guard, found himself in uncharacteristic verbal imbalance. Bart had stretched the truth in implying that Siuslaw Lady Birds wore leg rings. He was glad that Rusty had rescued Zack and him from total humiliation. The human angle might work. He too had seen humans with rings in their ears… BUT… eyebrows, cheeks and belly buttons… Those images were beyond anything he’d seen… or dreamed of… for that matter. Nevertheless, the survival of his ability to con, not to mention the need to protect his dubious credibility, demanded that he bear witness to Rusty’s claims. He wagged his black head up and down in agreement. Zack, uncomfortably ignorant of where Rusty and Bart were leading them, gingerly joined in pumping his colorful head up and down in support.
Rusty enjoying the cognitive dissonance he’d created in minds of Zack, Bart and his Waldo friends, continued, “They also imbed silver studs in conspicuous places… can you believe… their tongues?”
Chatters of distaste and empathetic pain permeated the crowd. Bart nearly fell off his perch and Zack looked dumfounded.
“Listen my friends,” Rusty shouted collecting the attention of the hearers, “Bart may not have had his facts exactly straight, but the point he was attempting to make is a valid one. If you want adopt popular fashions of humans and do the things they do… If you want to draw attention to yourselves… wearing rings in strange places is a convenient place to start.”
There was silence.
Bart looked around. The looks on the faces of the Waldo birds told him that Rusty had set the stage for him to redeem his reputation and it provided him with an unexpected opportunity.
“Yes,” he shouted and with renewed bravado and asked, “Who’d like a leg ring?” He took the extra rings from his leg and held one for Alex Grouse, who stood next to Janice. Alex hesitated before lifting a rejecting wing and moving into the crowd. “How about you, Jerry?” Bart asked looking at Jerry Quail. Jerry’s curiosity caused him to involuntarily take the ring. Then, he looked at the faces of birds watching to see what he would do. The pressure was too much. Jerry dropped the ring to the ground and slithered in among his friends.
“I’ll take one,” Rusty said reaching out to Bart.
An excited mummer ran through the bird community.
“Wow,” Spector Sandpiper said.
“Rusty wants one?” added Ginger Snipe
Bart could hardly contain his delight that Rusty wanted a ring. “It’s a Philip Stein!” he gushed handing the ring to Zack. “Let Zack put it on,” he concluded.
“You can drop the uppity, fashion label Bart,” Rusty protested adding, “Liking its looks is good enough for me.”
“Emporio Armini?” Bart speculated fishing for support.
“No… just plain silver ring gracefully dangling at my ankle,” Rusty said rejecting Bart’s over indulgence.
“Cartier?” Bart whispered.
Rusty gave him a withering look.
Zack took the ring with timid uncertainty. He was glad that Rusty was rescuing Bart and him from communal excommunication, but was reluctant to have the glare of attention brought on him. He didn’t have Rusty or Bart’s experience and was certain that, if he were forced to say anything, he would blow the reinstated advantage rusty had provided them. Nevertheless, he took the ring and approached Rusty.
Rusty held up a resisting claw, “I’d be pleased if Georgia Ann would do the honors.”
Georgia looked bashful and confused. Then, stepped forward showing that she was pleased Rusty had chosen her.
“You really do smell funny,” she said to Zack as she took the ring.
“Clive Christian,” Bart murmured as Georgia passed him on her way to Rusty.
She hopped up to Rusty, who offered her his left foot. Georgia slipped the ring over the toes and ankle of his large foot.
Rusty held it up for all to see.
“Clive Christian! The mark of quality for all to see,” Bart said proudly.
“A simple, uncluttered sign of friendship,” Rusty corrected.
Rusty grinned and said, “I’ve got to be on my way home. On my way north I encountered Oly Owl, who told me that the Spotted Towhees and the Hermit Thrush are in a dispute over territorial claims near Steamboat. Oly thought I could help them out… It was nice seeing all of you. Thanks again for the honor. It looks impressive,” he said pointing at the medallion leaning against the stump.
“Thanks for stopping by again,” Phil Killdeer said speaking out for the rest of the community.
“Please come again soon,” Janice said warmly.
“Yeah,” Bart chimed in adding, “next year we will have woodpecker contests and a high flying event… you’ll win that wings down.”
Rusty, touching Bart with the wingtips of his right wing and laughing, said, “At least I know you’ll be hyping something beyond its worth…” With that he lifted himself into the air and away from Waldo. From a distance he added, “Could be worse!” and disappeared over and behind a stately ponderosa pine.
“Hey Bart, I’ll take one of those rings,” Will Mockingbird said sidling up to him.
“It’s a David Yerman… It’ll cost you,” Bart grinned producing the shinny ring.
“David Yerman,” Will repeated savoring the words on his beak.
Soon all the rings had found homes on the ankles of Waldo birds.
“What did you call that smell you have on?” Georgia Ann asked taking a step closer to Zack.
“Marc Jacobs,” Zack smiled hopefully.
“It kinda smells like wild huckleberry… doesn’t it?” Joan smiled and asked, “Can I have that card?”
Zack nervously juggled the card getting into her claw.
“Bird hopping contest, anyone?” Bart asked launching into his campaign to get sports started at Waldo.
Perplexed Waldo birds looked at one another.
“Rusty told me about sports,” Bart said fudging the truth knowing that the Waldo birds idolized Rusty. “Everyone wanting to be on the bird hopping team… gather at Shadow Bay in ten minutes,” Bart concluded flopping into the air toward the cozy cove a hundred yards away.
A bevy of birds followed him chattering excitedly some wearing bright silver rings around their ankles.
Aren’t you going to see what Bart’s up to?” Georgia Ann asked tucking the cardboard sampler under her wing.
“I know what he’s up to,” he said with an emphatic laugh. “And I’ve had enough Bart for one day,” he continued, and taking Georgia Ann’s wing he led her to a nearby oak to hunt for carpenter ants.
“What do you think if we started a beauty contest for Waldo ladybirds? If we did you’d win wings down.”
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