Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Maple and Miss Red
I sat down slowly in the porch several mornings ago with my first cup of coffee and soon heard a familiar tat-tat-tat outside.  Not far from the porch was a female red-bellied woodpecker drilling into a heavy, dead branch on a dying maple.
As she relentlessly struck the limb in beats of three, slivers and shavings of wood floated to the ground, fifteen feet below.  I wondered how long she could strike her head against the wood, presumably without her first cup of coffee.
Sluggishly, I began to realize that Miss Red's struggle to survive was a fitting metaphor for the writing process.  Compelled by instinct beyond my ken, she was certain that a tasty bug was escaping the overnight cold within relative warmth inside the decomposing flesh of the dead branch.  She was determined to reach the morsel in the same way that we sense a good story within an inspiration and strive to reveal it.  Much the same as she repeated her tat-tat-tat on the wood, writers tap-tap-tap on a keyboard, trying to uncover the story within.
Miss Red was mulish in her labor, much as a writer must be tenacious to coax a story from words.  Without her drive she will starve, certainly with the specter of winter literally on the horizon.  In some cases, litterateurs face the same future although it can be worse – the unfulfilled need for self-expression.  Of course, even as there may be no reward for the woodpecker's work, the same may be true for the writer.  But, any woodpecker or scribe worth their salt wouldn't let that stop them.
As she worked, Miss Red was unconcerned about the debris that fell to earth.  They were bits of wood, obstacles in her way much as many words are in the way of writers, words that must be cast aside during editing to reveal the meat of the story. 
If her concentration was interrupted by someone slurping coffee or my wife's footsteps, the bird stopped momentarily, but always returned to her work.  In the same way, we may find our efforts interrupted by the cry of a baby, an important phone call, or the call of nature.  The dedicated will return to the task at hand as quickly as possible and continue chipping away at the wordy wood.
In fact, the hundred-plus-year-old maple itself is a metaphor for the art of letters.  The farthest reaches of its root system represent the beginnings with The Epic of Gilgamesh, if not stories told in pictographs on cave walls.  The trunk, main branches, water sprouts, and limbs represent the styles of fiction and nonfiction through millennia of human history, snaking off in different directions as the human imagination strives to explore all forms of written expression.  Even its leaves, returning each year in similar but different arrangements and colors, symbolize the literature styles of the day.
As I saw her struggle to survive as a metaphor for writing, I wondered if Miss Red sees writing as a metaphor for her struggle to survive.  I think we both shall miss that maple.


  1. Thank you. I hope Miss Red is still out there somewhere, surviving.

  2. She also frequently banged her head against an immovable object, which I think is another fitting metaphor for writing. :D

  3. ...and yet if she flies into the window pane, she'knock herself silly ...

    woodpeckers are hard to figure ... writers are harder.