Jeff Smith 3:30 p.m., Jan. 19
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WAKA WAKA WAKA
The acorn woodpeckers are working the oak grove with more energy than a politician at a campaign rally. Well. it is that time of year. And nobody can shovel that stuff like a politician. The news reports often use the word "disingenuous" when analyzing some of the debates. Most people aren't quite sure what it means, and it's certainly more polite than saying "lying little weasel" on the air. You'd need to apologize to all the small weasels and probably their large cousins, for comparing them to politicians. You can't exactly say it's politically incorrect, because the weasels don't vote, yet.
Acorn woodpeckers are early to work, greeting the sunrise with their distinctive WAKA WAKA WAKA calls. They have family values, bringing their children, their aunts, their uncles, and cousins to work. You might call that nepotism. A closer look at their nesting habits reveals some rather indiscriminate mating, and a little bit of infanticide...throw those unknown eggs out of the nest, but it's all in the family. But they do work together, and harvest the acorns. They stuff them into holes in grainery trees, preferably softer wood than oaks, like palms or cedars or dead trees. The same trees are used year after year. There are three acorn woodpeckers working the groves this year, and when one calls from the oaks, the woodpeckers on the palm tree tuck their wings in and do a speedy glide down into the canopy, opening their wings to control the flight into the branches. Maybe it's like a big slide to them, fun while they work.
I'd much rather watch them, and ponder why they don't get headaches, than hear the news and opinions of televisions' talking heads, who give me headaches. The colorful acorn woodpeckers with their black, white and red feathers are the harbinger of the acorn harvesting season. Well, the electric blue scrub jays are also early harvesters. They showed up a couple of weeks ago, and are making lots of noise. The jays often bury their bounty and are partially responsible for reforesting the oak groves. There's a lot to be said for short term memory problems -- in our neighborhood, you get oak trees.
Most of the native Indian population that once depended on acorns for sustenance now shop at the supermarket. Making acorn mash is taught once a year at some reservations. We still give thanks to the oaks for their oxygen, their shade, and their ambiance, and the food supply. In our wanderings we've seen many metate stones -- granite boulders and outcroppings with holes for grinding acorns and other seeds into flour. Most are located under the shade of oaks, with steady cooling breezes on hot days, and usually a nearby water source. If you stop a while, you can imagine the women, working and talking, and the children helping and playing nearby. These would be fine places to camp...usually up on a hill, above the surrounding flatlands, so you can see what's coming, and decide if it's friend or foe, or a bear that might eat you.
Last week we ventured to the top of Palomar Mountain. There was the first hint of fall color, a welcome relief to the fire blackened hills. At the observatory parking lot, in the picnic area, is another acorn woodpecker grainery tree, one of the grand old cedars. You can lie on the picnic table and watch them without crimping your neck. This time the flock was seven or eight birds, working the groves. Lots of WAKA WAKA WAKA calls. Remind me of that Muppet, Fozzie Bear, except he didn't fly through the forest. The acorn woodpeckers resemble flying black and white pinwheels as they go about their work.
Election year politics and acorn harvest season are finite. G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams, six-term Michigan governor, once quipped that "humanity has made astounding progress in every other field of endeavor except politics." He felt that the heart of politics was participation: "Politics is a lot of people, good ideas, and coordination of the two. Participation, the widest possible participation is the answer." We wish the woodpeckers an abundant harvest and good winter eating.