By Dan Kirk
Why do we publish an article in the What’s in Your Watershed column of this newsletter every month? A little bit about this column: We share facts about an organism or animal that lives in the Bay Area, and sometimes we tell stories of encounters, like an encounter with a Great Horned Owl. Why do we do it? I’m asking this question because over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about…a lot and asking many questions about things I normally don’t have time to think about. I tend to be an overthinker regardless of the crisis, but obviously things are different. I remember in March during a virtual town hall meeting, Dr. Erica Pan, an Alameda County public health officer, forgot what day it was, her excuse being: “Covid Time”. I laughed at that moment because I could truly empathize with even her slippage of time, and at this point, I know almost everyone can. When slippage of time skews reality, a sense of place is really comforting, and can be the stabilizing factor in really chaotic moments in life. The What’s in Your Watershed articles tell you something about the place you live in, but more so they encourage you to see for yourself who your neighbors are. What, or who is in your watershed? What is your relationship to the many life-forms of this place? How are we all interrelated? How do we steward one another? To begin answering these questions, all we need to do is look around and listen.
Lately, I’ve been obsessing with the color orange. It’s energetic and mesmerizing; it’s the color of the California Poppy that electrifies the hillsides. It’s the color I see when I look around. It’s also the defining characteristic of the Northern Flicker bird. Phew, this is where we bring it all together. The Northern Flicker has been on my mind ever since I found a flicker feather a few years ago. The feather was about five inches long and bright orange except for a bit of the top which was black. When I found it, I stuck it in the cuff of my beanie, which was good instinct because my friend, a Siuslaw person from the lands of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians of the Oregon coast, said finding a flicker feather is good luck. I later noticed he was proudly displaying three flicker feathers in one of his cedar hats. My feather blew away during a windy day on the dunes. I haven’t found another yet, and I realized, you can’t really look for good luck, you just get lucky.
These days during the springtime, if you take a moment to step outside or open a window and observe your neighbors, you might just hear one of them pecking, or “drumming” on a tree or calling to mate (after all, it is spring fever). The Northern Flicker, you guessed it, is a woodpecker! Besides your yard, they can be seen or heard pecking away in parks and woodlands, and even those up in the mountains. The underside of their wings and tail feathers are bright orange, the torso is brown with black spots and their back is somewhat striped with the same coloring as their torso. They have a dark black crescent shape facing up on their chest and have a little orange patch under their eye. They are eclectic! Electric! Flying, carrying lucky energy all around us. I’ve stopped looking for feathers, because I feel lucky enough just to be able to recognize them as my neighbors.
I live on Huchuin (Oakland) Ohlone land, and my neighbor is the Northern Flicker. When I say this I feel calm, because I know this will always be true.