SMITH COLUMN: Listening to the whippoorwills at dusk

Published 9:30 am Thursday, May 5, 2022

This is the time of the year when you can listen out for the whippoorwills at dusk if you are in the right place. That means you must go where there is peace and quiet, where the traffic cacophony does not overwhelm and where nature reminds you that its best offerings will never be for sale.  All of us can enjoy the best of nature without ever having to reach for a credit card. However, we don’t always take advantage of our options.

Think of the many in our world who will never twitch their toes in soil which has just been turned over; who will never lie down beside a babbling brook and daydream; who will never hear a whippoorwill at dusk.

I can remember back on the farm with nightfall encroaching, just before the cicadas went on a vocal outrage, the call of the whippoorwill — so definitive and distinct.

Since the whippoorwill is nocturnal, we don’t see them, but those in the countryside can hear them. I wonder how many miles one would have to drive out into the country to hear a whippoorwill? How far away from the beaten path would one have to venture?

An internet check allowed for a few interesting facts, revealing that the Eastern Whippoorwill is about nine and one-half inches long. This means it is larger than a dove or a quail but smaller than a pheasant. It has “mottled” brownish plumage. With the male, there is a white collar and white tail corners. The female’s tail is plain and her collar is buffy, nothing to turn your head.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the prettiest birds are the males? Take the cardinal which comes to your patio.

With a bright red coat gleaming brilliantly with a band of black encircling his bill, he is one of nature’s best offerings.  A female cardinal looks like she has been “rode hard and put up wet.”

There just couldn’t be a more beautiful bird than the cock pheasant. It’s many vivid colors on its breast and a white ring around its neck give this gamebird unmatched splendor. A cock pheasant is downright regal.

The hen pheasant is drab and forgettable.

The female blue bird “ain’t” so blue, certainly not like her counterpart. The female peacock looks like she was created by an artist who ran out of paint.

With humans, the fairer sex is always the most beautiful and becoming. Who among us out there does not agree that that is how it should be?

With the Whippoorwill, the male is nothing to write home about. He is about as pretty as a toad frog. Perhaps it is best that whippoorwills are nocturnal. They would not turn our heads if we encountered them in broad open daylight.

What makes the whippoorwill special is its call which it can repeat up to 400 times without stopping.

Whip, whip, poor will. Ad nauseam. Over and over again. This brings about the question of which naturalist counted the calls of the whippoorwill?

In the days of my youth, I would sit in a rocking chair on the porch, listen to the whippoorwill and wonder what was out there beyond the farm. Would I ever make it to Fenway Park? Would I ever see Ted Williams swing the bat? Would I ever get to Nashville and go to the Ryman Auditorium and enjoy the Grand Ole Opry? Would I ever hear Eddy Arnold sing the cattle call on stage?

Now what I would most like to do would be to own a cabin at the edge of the woods and take to a rocker at dusk and cock an ear for the call of the whippoorwill. I have been to the Opry countless times. I have been to Fenway Park quite often.

Never got to see Ted Williams swing the bat, but I enjoyed a nice lunch and dinner with him on two different occasions in which he took the time to talk hitting with a novice.

My guess is that I could ride out to Vanna or Bowman or Good Hope and park at some cross road, lower my windows and wait long enough and a whippoorwill would reach out to me.

In signing off. I would like to say to those who partake of eardrum splitting, amplified music, that if we all get to heaven, I bet you are not going to have anything to listen to.

No angel could abide such.  I suspect, however, that the whippoorwill will come calling at dusk.