I left work Monday night with a deep need to check up on a pileated woodpecker that is busily turning a huge, rotten snag into wood chips and sawdust.
I got to the trail at about 6 p.m. and dodged a muddy shorthair pointer that was running in circles at the trailhead.
I watched the dog for a second and realized that the human or humans responsible for the critter were probably still on the trail. Dogs like to be the first in everything. We must seem like such slow, plodding creatures to our dogs.
Anyway, I marched off down the trail and almost immediately heard the high-pitched whine of attacking mosquitos for the first time this year.
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I hadn’t brought any bug juice – it takes a bite or five to prompt me to put the nasty stuff in the hiking daypack – so I hoped that the my BugOff hat that I bought three summers ago was still working.
I met the dog’s owners hustling up the trail with semi-worried faces. I told them all was well at the trailhead.
I almost asked them for bug juice, or even a bottle of water. Yeah, I forgot that too.
I was caught in between work and recreation, in between spring and summer and in between my real world and a wonderful little movie called “Up.”
I suddenly realized that I wanted to see that pileated woodpecker because a character in the Disney/Pixar movie reminded me of the wonderfully weird ways of birds. And I also couldn’t get that cartoon out of my head.
First of all, birds do things that can’t be explained. Pileated woodpeckers – big gorgeous birds with a bright red crest and a giant jackhammer of a beak – are some the shyest birds around.
If they spot you, they’ll immediately fly away in that up-and-down, roller coaster way that makes then look like marionettes on a string.
Yet, the birds – so sneaky and quiet – then find a rotten tree and start slamming their beak into the soft, pulpy wood. A pileated woodpecker at work sounds like a small machine gun, and they create clouds of wood chips and sawdust.
My favorite pileated woodpecker has hammered off branches six inches across from a big snag, and piles of sawdust are all over the area. The racket echoes through the woods.
Going to see this bird – it’s about a 2.5-mile round trip – is fun, but it’s also not very productive.
Yet, it’s a small adventure every time, and that brings up “Up.”
I tend to like Pixar movies a lot, and I recently took Courtney, my 19-year-old daughter to see “Up.” Courtney is a university sophomore now, but she also loves Pixar movies and shorts.
Anyway, I didn’t expect to see an outdoor movie, but I did.
I don’t want to give away all the wonderful surprises in this movie, but much of the story is about big dreams of outdoor adventures set aside for years – until it was too late to live the dreams.
The main character of the movie – a 78-year-old curmudgeon named Carl – seems crushed by life. But then he remembers his dream and takes off after it.
Wild things – including an outlandish bird that might just be a symbol of all the outlandish birds we humans have exterminated from the planet – happen at a brisk pace.
But the quiet outdoor adventures that are close to home – things that we can do each day, such as a picnic, a walk or a visit to a pileated woodpecker – have their moment as well.
So, visiting my woodpecker, even through I was unprepared for the minor perils of the outdoors, was doubly important to me Monday evening.
It seems that finding, and savoring, the outdoors that is within our reach every day is a good measure of a life lived well.
I got home with six mosquito bites, and I was thirsty. But that woodpecker hammered away and the woods rang with his work.
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226