That rat-a-tat-tat on the side of our house is a hairy woodpecker. He's getting back at the house for nearly killing him.
But before I get to that tale (and we all fly into outer space with TV's 1960s Robinson family), here's a highly original one-minute video I came across today. It's a woodpecker animation done with some sort of masking or duct tape, and it's from the Worcester Art Museum. Click and watch:
Pretty cool animation, eh? Anyway, back to the Revenge of the Woodpecker. Last week he flew into a picture window in front of me. He dropped to a shrub, his head bent back, limp. His eyes were shut. I thought he'd broken his neck. I felt sick.
I should note that this woodpecker is sort of a friend of ours. He's around all the time and greets us with his "cheep" chirps (go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/hairy_woodpecker/id and click on SOUND to hear a sample) and his tree-rattling percussion—up to 20 beats per second. Basically, we think woodpeckers are about the coolest of bird species.
I left the room because I couldn't watch our friend die. A few minutes later, I returned, hoping he'd miraculously flown off, but he was still there, clinging to the shrub with one talon. At least his chest was moving and he had an eye open. For the next 15 minutes I watched him slowly improve. I felt he was looking back at me through the window. Finally, after turning his head a few times to make sure it still worked, he abruptly flew off to a spruce tree.
Pamelia taped white fluttering strips of paper to the window to prevent any future bird crashes. And then Hairy came back to the edge of the window yesterday and started pounding the house. Who could blame him? When I went out to shovel snow this morning, I heard one voice: Cheep! Pause. Cheep! I looked up and there was Hairy again, looking at me from a tree. He seemed totally back to normal. He won't find many bugs (I hope!) in the shingles of our house, but for now, I'm content to let him look.
The Notebook sendshappy 212th birthday greetings today (12/28) to Thomas Henderson, the Scottish astronomer who in the 1830s figured out the distance to Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. He wasn't exactly right—he calculated 3.25 light years (about 19 trillion miles) when in fact Alpha Centauri is 4.24 light years (about 25 trillion miles) away—but hey, cut him some slack. He may have been the first person to use the parallax method to determine distances in space.
Two bits of Henderson-related trivia: Those of you old enough to remember the Lost in Space TV series (danger, Will Robinson!) might recall that the Robinson family was bound for a planet that orbited Alpha Centauri. And, for the record, if you were to try to fly to Alpha Centauri at the speed of a commercial airliner, the trip would take just under 29 million years. Your baggage, perhaps longer. And remember, that's the closest star.