Saturday, July 19, 2008
Summer, 1969 -- Potomac, Maryland -- well after midnight. A lone whippoorwill sings in the distance. It is haunting and annoying at the same time. Can't he change his tune a little? Why doesn't he stop, at least for a few minutes? Why is his the only bird song I hear? During the day there is a chorus of mocking birds, cat birds, robins, finches and others that have their own seasons to visit this part of the world. It's amusing to watch the mocking birds in their routine. Males find a high spot, often on the top of a chimney, strut around a bit then fly straight up several feet, fluttering and singing before landing again. They also like to gang-up and harass the occasional visiting crow or buzzard. When the silence of the night gives way to this lone singer, I can't help but feel sad that he's not getting a response. Where have all the whippoorwills gone? Was he a fledgling who fell from his nest, got left behind and had to grow up on his own? I don't know anything about birds, but the thought bothers me. That summer was the first our family and four others occupied newly built houses in a comfy-sounding development called Country Place. As construction finished on other houses, more families moved in. We had mud lawns and no trees. But, there were also woods to explore and a creek in which to catch slimy blobs of tadpoles. In another direction was a farm with pet peacocks and llamas where we learned the hard way that llamas spit. And close, to the south, was the old farm house of the family that had owned and worked the land our houses now occupied. They kept a large garden of vegetables and flowers and were generous with their new neighbors. That summer, the air conditioning in our new house crashed for several weeks. It was hard on our 15 year old dog who died within days, on July 18th -- the night before the first Moon mission. It was also hard on his human family. We had come from the shores of Lake Michigan with it's cooling breezes to the tropics of a D.C. summer. Stifling air pollution was also something new. Weather inversions that held pollutants close to the ground often turned the sky a sickening brown. Lying in bed, windows wide open, no cooling breezes, I listened to that Whippoorwill sing night after night. I identified with that bird. I missed my hometown and our dog. Decades have passed and nearly every square inch of Potomac is now covered with conspicuous, ostentatious houses. The village's serenity and natural beauty were pillaged by those with more dollars than sense. One positive note is that the numerous trees Dad planted in our formerly barren yard have flourished and provide comforting shade for the family that now occupies the house on Hayfield Court.