Woodpecker Jungle Monkeys of My Youth

Ink, watercolor, gouache on paper

Close up of Day 243

Dryocopus pileatus (pileated woodpeckers) inhabit the woods surrounding my house. When I was small, my mother said the birds’ calls belonged to monkeys.

My sister and I knew better, we watched David Attenborough, and more importantly, we had never seen a monkey in our woods. But children have imaginations, and ours led us to relish, and even care for, these unseen monkeys.

We would hear the calls, rush to the window, and point at the trees. “It’s the monkeys,” we would say. We wondered if the creatures in the trees were related to the stuffed animal monkeys, with velcroed hands that stuck together, hanging around our necks.

We imagined and imagined, and realized that through our imagination, the world could be bigger and still knowable. And as I got bigger, and as I let the monkey’s of my imagination go, I came to realize that through the lens of our imaginations, the mundane things like woodpeckers and dead trees can become a jungle.

Today, I was reminded of all this when two pileated woodpeckers landed on a tree outside my window. They stayed a little while, I had never seen two together before. In the bleak of mid-February winter, they reminded me of the jungles of my youth.

The woodpeckers reminded me that to see the fantastic in the mundane, we just have to see as we saw when we were small. We just have to look with the perspective of fresh knowing: maybe there really are monkeys in your trees.