Today, just as the day was beginning to break and nature beginning to awake to another gloriously wonderful day here in God’s earthly home, Cobb County, I was walking in the vicinity of the back of the East Cobb Library, in Parkaire Landing, on the final leg of my morning walk.
From the patch of woods between there and the first house on Johnson Ferry, I heard the haunting cry of a whip-poor-will. I can’t recall the last time I heard a whip-poor-will. The sound immediately thrust me back some seventy years in the past. Suddenly I was lounging, while my maternal grandparents enjoyed the lulling rhythms of their respective rocking chairs, on the front porch of a weathered farm house, in Taylor County, Texas, as America sat, poised and unknowing, on the brink of losing its virginity in the terrible, massive bloodletting known as World War II.
The sweltering West Texas heat dissipates little at sundown, but we were sometimes blessed with a little breeze making sitting outside far preferable to being cooped up in the house, which had been absorbing the brutal heat all day, and would not begin to cool down until the wee hours of the morning, and, then almost imperceptibly, as if thinking “What’s the use/? The sun will be back shortly.”
Sitting on the porch, after dusk, one is beguiled by the plaintive songs of the whip-poor-will and the Bobwhite quail. Occasionally a lone coyote will add his voice to the mix. One can be at peace with God and himself in those times.
The scene is more than familiar to those who are over half a century old, though they may not have enjoyed the whip-poor-will, the quail or the coyote. Those residing in rural areas most generally did, as all three are common throughout the continent. The march of civilization has forced them to the outskirts, and, in some areas, led to their localized extinction.
That is why it was such mind grabbing surprise to hear the whip-poor-will this morning. I guess my mind, quite without my being aware, had relegated that haunting call to the dark place where it stores those precious things we shall never experience again.
I am grateful to it because, for a brief few minutes, my memory was in the clutch of long bygone time, a time of youth, wonder and innocence, a time of lazy summer evenings, cold buttermilk, leftover turnip greens and pan fried potatoes, a time of homemade ice cream at the church picnic and cold watermelon fetched from a tub of water under the porch, a time of “lightenin’ bugs”, stilts and can walkers, of marbles, pocket knives and mumbledy peg, of rubber guns and tops spun with a string. It was there I tried to remain for as long as possible.
For those who never heard that trilling sound of the whip-poor-will, the Bobwhite quail or the coyote, in the dusk of eve or the false dawn of the early morn, I shed a silent tear.
Hank Williams described it best in his 1949 country hit. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, as he leads in with "Hear that lonesome whip-poor-will. He sounds too blue to fly.”
For my Tuesday morning whip-poor-will and for the memories his call invoked, “I’m eternally in your debt, little bird. May the insects be juicy and nourishing and may you live to sing another day. If not for me, perhaps for some other soul badly needing to be torn from today and thrust into yesterday to relish in its peace and simplicity, if only for a brief inking of time.”