Woody Woodpecker is alive and well. He lives down the lane in a neighbor’s snag tree. You know he’s there because every morning before 7 a.m., he’s hammering out his drum call to declare his territory. It is sort of akin to a jackhammer rat-a-tat-tatting — not exactly the alarm clock sound one would choose; however, it is effective (a nearby remote worker told me so).
Walter Lantz created Woody in 1940 at the behest of his new bride, Gracie. Their honeymoon in a lakeside cabin had been disrupted with a woodpecker’s noisy pecking that eventually bored through the roof of the cabin resulting in drips during a heavy rainfall. Walter was so annoyed by the bird that he wanted to shoot it, but Gracie suggested that he make a cartoon about the bird instead. Hence, Woody!
Woody Woodpecker was created in the likeness of the pileated woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in North America. Pileated is derived from the Latin pileatus which means “capped” and for this woodpecker refers to its bright red flaming crest. The cartoon character sports an exaggerated topknot and is well recognized by his characteristic laugh that resembles the call of the pileated woodpecker.
With all the head banging these birds engage in — not only the warning drumming, but the pecking in quest for insects in the trunks of trees — why don’t they get a headache? If a human were literally banging their head against the proverbial wall, there would be some serious brain injury.
The woodpecker’s head is wonderfully made to accommodate his methodology. There is a bone in the woodpecker’s skull — the hyoid — that acts like a seatbelt for the brain. The big heart-shaped bone wraps around the skull to keep the bird’s brain in place.
In addition, there are a few other accommodations scientists have confirmed that woodpeckers have to protect their brains: varying the path of their pecks to minimize brain damage in specific areas; plate-like bones making the skull more flexible; a longer lower beak that helps to absorb impact while pecking, putting less strain on the brain.
Even with the morning rat-a-tat, we are happy to have these amazing birds in the neighborhood. Their varying calls echo loudly through the forest. Some who find spiritual meaning in the natural world believe that the pileated woodpecker symbolizes determination, steady work towards a goal, loyalty, and presence and that one shows up in your life when you need determination and steady progress to reach a goal. We can all use that help!
It has been almost a year (April 15) since we lost a Mazama resident who was the epitome of all the pileated woodpecker symbolizes: Mary Kiesau. She was known throughout the valley for her determination and steady work in the so many ways that she contributed to the valley.
Mary’s friends in her home community of Edelweiss, devastated with the loss of such a good person, decided to create something of lasting memory in Mary’s name. In two-and-a-half days, a GoFundMe site raised $3,025 in order to commission Barry Stromberg, local metal artist, to create a memorial bench specifically tailored to the things that Mary loved. It will be placed in an open space that Edelweiss residents call The Upper Meadow after a May 1 memorial event at TwispWorks.
The bench will face down-valley and provide a spot for folks to be present with Mary’s legacy. Maybe in a silent moment a pileated woodpecker will provide one of its calls as a reminder to all the wonderful things that this amazing 45-year-old woman left in the world.