Any wordsmith will wax lyrical on the importance of capturing the perfect text to convey meaning. When creating a story, penning poetry or adding snarky opinions online, we’re usually advised to read aloud that which we have written before it goes into print—a cardinal rule from any editor who critiques your manuscript.
It makes a big difference.
Rare is the time you pull away from your pages and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Usually, you re-sharpen your pencil and pour another glass of whatever is at your elbow.
Reading things aloud allows you another dimension of sensory input and opinion. Words have specific meaning in our heads when we rush over them with our eyes, but they have another element of breadth and measurement when pronounced.
Take for instance, the whippoorwill. This bird, I am convinced, was a writer in another lifetime. And one who needs a good long acupuncture session to get its qi flowing because it is stuck in a relentless repetition of clarification and examination.
Is this how I should sound?
Wait, I’ll try again.
Was that one clear?
Hold on, I’ll give it another go.
Practice makes perfect?
I’m so up for the challenge.
Writing is rewriting. And whippoorwilling is being willing.
Most of us would applaud the ‘try hard’ attitude, the ‘won’t give up’ mental muscle. Sadly, one member of my household is plotting against the breed, no longer shouting for an encore. In fact, he is planning …
The Eastern Whippoorwill comes to visit us in early spring, takes off for cooler climates come mid-summer and returns with renewed vigor when it no longer fears the possibility of cooking to death while slumbering.
The call of the whippoorwill begins around dusk, after the bird snoozes all day. His ‘first out of bed’ routine varies slightly from ours. We do a few sun salutations, squats or jumping jacks to get the blood flowing, and he does scales and arpeggios.
The first time we heard him, I remember leaping out of my patio rocking chair, nearly spilling the first tangy gin and tonic of the season.
“Did you hear that?” I’d asked my husband.
He was looking at his Blackberry. “Yep. Bird.”
“No, not just a bird. I think that was a whippoorwill.”
“A whippoorwill. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a live one.”
One of his eyebrows rose. “As opposed to hearing a dead one?”
I tsked at him, sat down on the edge of the porch and sipped my drink, willing the sweet sunset concert to continue. And continue it did.
And every morning.
For the next five years.
He was there for the setting of the sun, reminding us the day was coming to an end and to take note of it, and he was there well before the sun rose again, reminding us to prepare for it. It’s very romantic at 8 pm while you’re reminiscing over the day’s events that knocked the stuffing out of you, but goes a bit beyond the call of duty when showing up at 4 am while you’re still recovering from those same events.
The bird was auditioning for the role of an eager beaver rooster.
We experienced two weeks of this charming songbird’s pre-sunrise serenade. And for fourteen mornings my husband popped up in bed alarmed, confused and quickly transitioning to irate, as each night the bird found a perch closer to where we slept. I wasn’t surprised when our sleep roused conversations took a turn for the worse. In the beginning, it was something like:
My husband: “Wha? What was that?”
Me: “Just the whippoorwill. No worries.”
My husband: “Grrrr …” Zzzz …
Shortly thereafter it was:
My husband: “Huh? What was that?”
Me: “The whippoorwill. Go to sleep.”
My husband: “Fat chance …” Zzzz …
My husband: “What the bloody hell was that?!”
Me: “It’s the whippoorwill.”
My husband: “Oh no it whippoor-won’t!”
At this point, covers were thrown back, concrete shoes were donned (I swear he has a pair,) and the hunt for the happy alarm clock ensued.
I sat in bed with the lights out, eyes open, ears open even wider, listening for one of two sounds: a gunshot, or a lecture on civility and social convention. He’s an Englishman; it could go either way.
Five minutes later, the concrete shoes made their way back toward the bedroom with a flashlight guiding the way.
My husband: “Did you know that a clementine fits into the mouth of an Eastern Whippoorwill? It acts as a very nice cork.”
Me: “You didn’t!”
My husband: “Wish I could say I did, but the son of a gun got away—not before I told him about the Al Capone Walk I’ve got planned for him next time he visits though, so I think we’re good to go.”
Me: “You tell ‘em, honey.”
Well, each year we go through this routine. We’ve got it so well rehearsed it’s beginning to feel like an old episode of I Love Lucy, only I get to play Ricky. And each year my husband thinks he gets closer to adjusting the manners of this bird or throttling his golden pipes.
So I hardly took notice when yesterday, as we sat outside to watch our first spring sunset, our willing warbler greeted us enthusiastically. The only difference was this time … he wasn’t alone.
My husband leapt from his chair. “Good God, he’s brought reinforcements!” He stormed off, probably in search of more clementines.
Personally, I think the whippoorwill is just teaching the next batch of trainees. Or maybe he truly is a writer and is simply getting his manuscript critiqued.