I arrived home from dropping E and Z off at baseball practice to a quiet house--C was working late and M, the nocturnal teenager, was asleep. I considered following suit, but my conscience does not allow for 6 p.m. naps (it doesn't allow my children to take them, either, and I prodded M awake). I thought about some writing projects I've been wanting to work on, but the task-master on my left wrist told me I still needed to walk 4,500 steps that day, so I pulled on a pair of red rubber boots and headed outside.
As I neared the top of the driveway, I heard an incessant, insistent peep-squawk-scraw sound. I had heard the same sound the previous day and had traced it to a thick aspen tree with leathery fungus growing from every knob where a branch had once been, but I hadn't been able to see the source of the cacophony on or in the tree.
I climbed a bank of gravel at the edge of the driveway and quickly located the tree. From the top of the bank, overlooking a low area where the tree grew, I was eye-level with a spot 12 or 15 feet above the ground, about the height from which the noise emanated, but still I could see no nest or hole or noisy animal. I decided to wait and watch and see if the source of the noise would make itself visible.
I only had to wait a minute or two before a female yellow-bellied sapsucker came and landed on the side of the tree, dipped her bill toward its trunk and flew off again, leaving the noise undiminished, if not slightly louder, A minute or two later she returned and did the same thing again. I made my way along the ridge of the gravel embankment until I faced the side of the tree when she had landed. There, just a foot or two above my eye level, was a hole in the tree about the size of a walnut.
The woodpecker returned to the tree two or three more times while I stood their watching, each time feeding something in through the hole to her noisy babies, but their squawking never let up. I walked on, through the woods, up the driveway, around the field, and back, and, 4,000 steps later, the babies were still at it. I felt for this mother, with her hungry brood and the never-ending task of trying to fill them up. I know how she feels.