May the Cuckoo Always Sing to Me-the Plight of the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo and Other Fine Spirits of the Earth

My backyard is the magic stuff of dreams.  At least it was until I moved away to the country.  Back then it was in a bustling urban area, yet cloaked in trees and lush vines that grew on a creek that time forgot.  Within this green world and canopy of vegetation, it was the home of many wild creatures that had somehow lost their way to risk navigating the bustling freeways less than a mile away.  There were armadillos, raccoons, feral cats (which I had to stop feeding because their numbers kept growing), and, of course, the birds.  Oh yes, and rabbits and even deer who had to negotiate these tangled manmade arteries of roads and thoroughfares without getting smashed by a car or even a big truck.  My backyard was just north of Houston back then.

One spring day, my backyard encouraged the yellow sun rays to shine with extra brilliance on the green new leaves, and there was a bit of faint movement in the branches of a tall 100-year-old oak.  This little creek with no name was reported to be a shortcut taken by Santa Anna when he and thousands of his men had followed it in 1836 during his attempt to punish the Texians during the infamous Runaway Scrape.  You can still find some remnants of broken chards and other human creations that the army might have cast away into the creek during the march.  But maybe not. If you know what you are looking for, but then, isn’t that a typical aspect of most anything?

So some 162 years after Santa Anna and his men marched on the banks of this little creek, it was now adjacent to my backyard and overgrown, thanks to the vine-fingers of Time.  And there were cuckoos gently moving, even caressing the trees and leaves from behind so as not to be noticed.  They are the most stealthy, secretive bird known to man, I think.  But finally, one slipped up and showed himself to my very own human eye.  I felt honored in some funny way.  I rushed into the house to fetch my camera, but was too late.  This fine-feathered creature had vanished into the leaves of green just as Santa Ana and his army had vanished into the leaves of Time.

I held my breath so the grand bird would not be startled at my intrusion into his forest.  My heart beat softly, for this was a magnificent bird with large white polka-dots on his dark tail underside.  And his song was a truly melodic and understated series of rapid clacking, followed by soft “gulps” that seemed other-worldly and surreal.  He had velvety, furry feathers about his neck, smooth as silk as he moved his head from side to side.  His eyes seemed kind, and he was indeed, a soft creature.  The following shows pictures of the bird in the wild, and you can click to play his song, or watch a video of him creeping silently within the cover of deep foliage:

The Cuckoo is a magical bird of the days of olde.  Have you heard him sing?  It has been said that if one sings to you, you are a lucky person.  That you are in the presence of something magic, something good and of high essence.

Jerome Paul White, an old friend of mine since De Queen Grade School in Port Arthur, Texas, used to come to my house in Old Humble, Texas to listen to them sing in the woods. Even when I was not home he would come and sit in my swing beneath the trees and watch and listen.  Jerry said it was the coolest place in Humble, Texas to meditate during the hot summers.  Figuratively cool, but literally, to be sure.  These were his private moments to himself whenever he grew weary of the business world and human considerations.  And needed a park bench in Life.

Jerry died on January 1, 1998, but his smile and humor lives on in the mind’s eye.  He thought life to be magical in many ways, and when the magic came to visit him he tried to capture it, whenever he got a glimpse. He liked the cuckoos.  They were his magic, his joy just because they were there.  He felt honored that they would visit him, too, and were good balm for whenever life’s problems messed with you, he said.

I remember Jerry as a man who would have liked to have lived to see Obama as president.  Jerry was always the champion of the underdog, the have-nots, the people who believed in America and the better parts of your neighbor.  He knew that life was not perfect, but he would try to do his part in showing respect for those in need.  Take the Tea Lady at the old Wyatt’s Cafeteria in Humble.  She was from Mexico, maybe 20 years our senior, but serving tea from her cart as she made the rounds at her tables.  Jerry always had a smile for her and some kind words as he joked and brought her into the human contact realm of his caring.  She had a family, some in Mexico, some in Texas, and they labored to make a living, no matter how meager.  Jerry always gave her a big tip for her service, for her being, and her smile.  

Jerry believed in government for the people.  He would have approved of Obama for being the author of the Affordable Care Act.  For all its slings and arrows sustained the “Obama Care” as some call it is, indeed, a national healthcare policy that all Americans can afford.  And not have to be beholden to churches and charity to fix their health problems as they occur.  

And Jerry always asked about the Tea Lady’s family, how they were doing, you know.  I think her name was Alma.  She was one Mexican who sought refuge from poverty here in the United States, and Jerry knew it and approved.  She did not cheat her way here.  She worked, paid into the Social Security Fund and paid income taxes as well.  And she would not fit the constituency of any politician of the conservative bent at all.  She would be scorned as someone who was less than an American.  She was a Mexican National, here working in servant status, with poor means of support just because she wanted a better life.  Jerry approved of Alma.  He helped her along her path with tips. Just because.  So would Obama, I think.  So who else in politics could meet that human being litmus test?  And declare any human being, as our Founding Fathers did in the Declaration of Independence, of having “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?” Not many, I’m afraid.  That kind might be an endangered species, just like the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.     

Note:  Texas is not listed in the Western states in the piece above, but the cuckoos are residents here in East Texas, only in fewer numbers.