Will the Whippoorwill

Last weekend, some of our family went on a picnic. We were sitting outside by a river when the story of Will the Whippoorwill came up, as memories sometimes do when families are together. It goes something like this.

On top of a mountain, stood a house. In the evening hours the windows stood open to let the breeze blow the hot summer air out. As the night crept in, the coolness tiptoed into the bedrooms to replace the heat. The grey twilight sky became pitch black in the absence of the sun. For a time, you could not see your hand in front of your face, until stars appeared seemingly out of nowhere, splattered across the heavens like white paint. Lying back beneath the wide-open expanse was a breathtaking experience. Enough to make you want to stay outside and watch the dazzle, just to be an observer of it.

Next to the house, stood a Rhododendron bramble. The gnarled branches were thick and tall with age. The inside was castle for kids and creatures. Will the whippoorwill, as he came to be known in family lore, decided the Rhododendron castle was the perfect place to raise a family. He set upon finding a mate the very first night he arrived. His mating call was loud, strong…and incessant.

With the windows open, the noise was particularly obnoxious within the bedrooms of the house on the mountain. It seemed somehow, amplified, as if Will himself was in the room with its occupants. Sleep was fleeting and the cool night air only seemed to encourage Will further. After a few nights, Mr. and Mrs. (Dad and Mom) were sleep deprived and beyond annoyed. The battle was on.

Will didn’t seem to notice he had disturbed his human neighbors, and went right on singing his heart out. All night. Every night.

Mr. and Mrs. decided something had to be done. Mr. was dead set to rid the world of Will’s song. He used many methods. He found that light startled the bird, and so when Will was mid-mating song, Mr. would turn on the floodlights. The song stopped. Mr. climbed back into bed feeling triumphant, but just as he was fading off to deep glorious sleep, Will began again.

Will wasn’t sure what the bright shining light meant. Usually when the light was bright it was time for him to sleep. But this light was different. It came on, but just as he was settling in to sleep, it went off again. He roused himself in the darkness and began singing again, louder than before to make up for the lost time.

Mr. was furious with the relentless song. Usually a lover of birds, he could not find the love for this one, unless he could get it to move along. So, the next time the song was particularly unrelenting, he was ready when it began. He quietly got out of bed with a flashlight he had placed upon the nightstand. He stood at the window and shined the light into the Rhododendron castle, since that seemed to be where the noise was coming from. The song stopped. Convinced he had startled the bird into silence, he climbed back into bed.

Will could not determine where the light was coming from and he stopped to take note. By this time, he had his wife and a couple of eggs on the nest, so his protective nature was in full force, making his song louder and bolder than ever. A light that moved so quickly felt like a threat to him. He stood like a stone as the beam passed over and all around him. When it finally went off, he burst into song to assure his enemy he would protect his castle.

To mute the song, Mr. and Mrs. closed their windows. The stuffiness seemed a small price to pay.

The children of the house were unaware of the war going on in the night. Their bedrooms were not as close and their windows not as wide open. They had heard Mr. and Mrs. talking about Will with animated voices, but they did not fully understand all the commotion or concern. Their sleep was only mildly affected, and only on a few occasions. So, the outdoors, the cool night breezes, and the stars flung across the black velvet sky called to them louder than Will’s song.

A tent was pitched on the mountain. Right out in the front yard for the girls, who wanted to sleep outside. The tent was far enough to be “camping distance” but close enough to be heard by Mr. and Mrs. should they be needed. With their windows open Mr. and Mrs. assured the girls, if they got scared, all they had to do was shout out. But the shout that came was not fear, but exasperation. The voice, “Shut up you stupid bird!” rang out and hung in the air. If shouting in your sleep was ever a thing, this was it.

Unbeknownst to the children, Mr.and his flashlight went on a hunt. Outside, wandering all over the yard, the beam moved randomly and into the Rhododendron castle. Mr. protecting his young.  

Will had never seen light move in such a haphazard way. He was frightened by the creature swinging a beam of light in every possible direction. He froze and went silent.

Mr.settled back into bed convinced he had finally scared Will away. Not so. In only a few moments, the bird sang his song even louder. Will protecting his young.

It was a stalemate between the two dads. Neither was happy with the situation.

As the summer moved on, Mr. and Mrs. got more and more tired each night. Sleep deficiency was taking its toll. The camel’s back was about to break. One night, when Mr. finally decided he’d had enough, he ran outside in is skivvies, with a loaded rifle in the pitch black. He took several shots at the Rhododendron castle, hoping to silence Will forever. He thought he had done it. The quiet was golden. He drifted off to sleep…until, “whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will” rang out across the mountain. And then…Agh!!! 

When I returned home from our picnic last week and a whippoorwill was singing in my backyard, I thought it was Will’s great great grandson coming to haunt me. There must be some kind of paranormal communication between the ghost birds who overheard our conversation to their still-living relatives. We’ve lived here over 20 years and I have never heard a whippoorwill. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

The timing of this bird’s appearance was so strange that I texted Dad and Melinda. Is it any wonder, Dad started texting me all the ways to try to rid myself of the culprit? I think he has PTSD. He suggested calling an exterminator, flashing lights, loud noises…(but not a gun since we live in a neighborhood.) The truth is, I can’t hear Will Jr. in my house with the doors closed, and honestly, I kind of like his song; as long as I can shut it out when I choose to. Just don’t tell Mr.  

3 thoughts on “Will the Whippoorwill

  1. Long ago, in the 1940s and 1950’s, we heard the whippoorwill while trying to fall asleep on my grandmother Gettys farm. There is a sweet song about “when whippoorwills call……..I’m happy in my blue heaven.” – also there was something about the peas being ripe. — Thanks for the memories. – luv, mary

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