The red head of the pileated woodpecker is somewhat obscured by the red and orange leaves of autumn in the background. The familiar and very loud knock, knock, knockity, knock can be heard for some distance as his bill chips away at a decaying tree. This beautiful rhythmic sound gives me a positive identification without a detailed visual look at this largest of all woodpeckers in the northeastern United States. It is early morning, and the fog left behind by yesterday’s rain burns away slowly and resembles the last remaining smoke of a bad forest fire. I am deep in the forest. There are no noises in the distance to remind me of human civilization. There are no song birds to brighten up the early day. At the moment I am seemingly alone in this part of these deep woods with the persistent woodpecker.
I love the soft quiet of the woods on a bright fall day. It seems even more silent after a night of rain. Leaves on the ground softened by drizzle is just what I need right now. Solitude would be my operative word for this day. I came to the forest early this morning because it is the only place that makes sense to me these days. In these woods I experience and feel the familiar. Forests live and die by the laws of nature, unless humans are involved. That does not mean that life in these woods is predictable because it is not. In fact, it is the unpredictable nature of the forest that I have learned to love. Just when you think you know something you find out you don’t. I like surprises. Forests are full of mysteries that peak your curiosity.
Another bank of late fog blows through. The woods are full of mist. Trees near and far appear as fuzzy images. Even the bright autumn colors are softened by the wonderfully thick fog. There is an irony to all of this fog. The pileated woodpecker takes to the air. His powerful wings push him slowly between tree trunks. His large head and beak and slow flight give him an ancient pterodactyl appearance as he navigates the forest. His black and white feathers contrast beautifully with the fall colors. The woodpecker cries a long shriek. The sheik has a musical rhythm that vibrates through the fog laden air. The call sounds like it belongs to a bird in a Tarzan movie. He glides off into forest hidden by the myriad of trees that provide such wonderful cover for so much that is wild.
Last night I watched a documentary on television about humans searching for natural gasin the continental United States. This particular sequence of events that were documented in the film took place in Pennsylvania. It could have been anywhere in this nation. Large companies were using chemicals and water pressure to search for natural gas. As a result natural gas is being released into fresh water supplies contaminating the water. Some individuals interviewed in the documentary film were able to light their tap water on fire with a match after the hydrofracking companies had abandoned their search for fuel. Others had water that spewed from their faucets that smelled like an oil factory. Oddly, but not surprisingly, those culpable for this atrocity deny any responsibility. They have a contract that has fine print that absolves them of all responsibility. They are exempt from federal laws governing the protection of fresh water. They are gunslingers without a lawman. They are thieves without a sheriff.
Of all the resources on this planet none is so precious as pure fresh water. It is essential to all things living. It is the foundation of all life. Much of this planet is arid. In these areas fresh, clean water is relatively uncommon. The rest of the planet has scant or adequate supplies. This planet has no fresh water to waste; especially if you consider the importance of this precious commodity in the future.
But there is big money in these gas reserves; really, really big money. Halliburton and other megacorporations who feast on dollar signs are hot on the trail of this energy source. They wave the American flag and claim it is for our energy freedom. They act patriotic. They give money to our senators and representatives to pass laws to protect their exploration. But in the end the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. They are greedy; greedy for money; greedy for power; and greedy for control. They don’t care if they ruin a family’s fresh water supply. They don’t care if they ruin fresh water for plants and animals. And they don’t care if they ruin it forever. It’s not their concern. After all, the law protects them and, more important, there is money to be made. They have an obligation to their stockholders.
If it were the exception I would not be alarmed. Rather, it has become the rule. The Gulf oil spill was caused by a greedy company that hides behind the banner of energy independence. This is capitalism at its worse; corporations controlling government. Without democracy there is little hope for the common person or our fragile planet. The sad part is that it is all so unnecessary. Greed never brings good things.
The fog in this forest is persistent. It will not move out on this day to reveal the absolute beauty of the forest. Off in the distance of these deep, dark woods I hear again the knock, knockity, knock of the pileated woodpecker. He is mining for insects in an old tree somewhere off into the distance. It feels like I am the only one in these woods to hear him.