Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chapter 69: The Whip-Poor-Will

The Thru-Hiker's Guide to Avifauna and Ornithology – the definitive compendium of all bird knowledge in the universe – has the following to say about the Whip-poor-will:
The Whip-poor-will, or Canternoctus molestus, is a medium-sized bird native to the North and Central American continents of the planet Earth. Primarily nocturnal and possessing superior natural camoflage, the Whip-poor-will is rarely seen but often heard, usually in the dead of night or just when you're about to fall asleep. It is named onomatopoeically after its unique and singularly annoying call
The Whip-poor-will's song has been described by many as haunting and etherial, and has figured prominently in American poetry, literature, and music.
Presumably all of the poets, authors, and musicians who held the Whip-poor-will in such high regard never had to endure a sleepless night stuck with one singing incessantly from an unseen perch in a tree just above their head. If they had, the Whip-poor-will might be properly regarded as the scourge that it is, and may have even been hunted into extinction. Alas, despite human intrusion into and wanton destruction of its natural habitats, the Whip-poor-will's conservation status remains that of "least concern."


I lay in my tent, swaddled in the comforting warmth of my sleeping bag, and closed my eyes. Images swam before me. A promising dream world of infinite possibility beckoned.

Whip-poor-will! Whip-poor-will!

My eyes shot open.

Whip-poor-will! Whip-poor-will!

It sounded as though it were coming from inside my tent. But no, it must've been perched on a branch just above my head. Or – who knows – maybe in a nearby tree, like the one Caveman was sleeping under. I could hear him cursing at it under his breath.

Or maybe he was shouting at the top of his lungs for it to shut up and go away or die quickly, only in drastically less polite language. At least that's what it devolved into. The denizens of the shelter grumbled in disapproval. Even Redwing's normally reserved voice pierced the darkness to achingly wonder, "What the bloody hell is that thing?"

And, as if in response, the bird responded.


It was a long night.

The next morning, we remaining stalwarts bonded over our shared trauma.

"Why can't they have sex during the daytime like the rest of us?" asked Caveman – possibly rhetorically – ignoring the fact that the mating rituals of Homo sapiens are also stereotypically nocturnal, or at least crepuscular.

"What if we mated like the birds do?" he continued. "What if we stood in the middle of a crowded intersection screaming 'Fuck me!' 'Fuck me!' 'Fuck me!'"

"Well, I don't know about you," I shrugged, "But that's how I met my girlfriend."

And we all laughed.

Later that day, we met Sonic – a burly, impossibly tall northbound thru-hiker in a Danny Fortson Seattle SuperSonics jersey – and caught back up with Roughin' It. Oh, and a deer walked up to us while we were eating lunch, and Lil Dipper tried – and failed – to feed it a Pop Tart. P-Nut also got lost and ended up behind us somehow. And Caveman went down a side-trail to a wayside to get a burger and a milkshake. Which he said wasn't worth it. Or something.

It was constantly foggy. Sometimes it drizzled. We walked past supposed view points and saw only clouds. Visibility was nil. Our enjoyment was considerably less so.

And we all ended up at Hightop Hut, some 21.4 miles from Blackrock Hut where we had started. It was filled with the usual all-male chorus of farting, snoring, burping section hikers. Whatever. All in all, a very productive – if relatively uneventful – day. Perhaps a necessary calm before the storm to come.

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