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Apr 25, 2001


Bone tired.
Out at dawn, I tarried for a Whip-poor-will at dusk, and tuckered myself out.
With daylight approaching fourteen hours, seeing both ends gets to be a bit much, but I was whipped into a frenzy, taking in all the Spring that could be seen. A Whip-poor-will I'd never seen, so I wanted to make the most of it. I've seen Nighthawks, which are somewhat similar, but they, despite the name, often fly by day, (which is how I've seen them), while the other Nightjars are strictly nocturnal, and a rarer sight. But here was one roosting in a Cherry tree, sleeping the day away, as is their habit. You couldn't say it was perched, exactly, as it basically lay lengthwise along the tree limb. Best known for its eponymous song, the Whip-poor-will is a cryptically patterned bird, and usually escapes notice during the day, often roosting on the ground without incident. This one was unusually conspicuous, low down in a small tree, where it was relatively easy to spot, at least if you knew it was there. Whoever it was that first found the bird, their identity was lost by the time I saw it, but word had passed among the birders in the Ramble, and a steady stream of observers passed by for a look, just as the Gill flowed continuously past the foot of the tree.

Despite the fine view, you had to know what you were looking at in order to know what you were seeing. With its eyes closed, and its big head sunk into its breast, it might have been just a bump on the limb. Binoculars revealed details of the mottled plumage, and even its whiskers(!), but you had to wait for dark, when it finally opened its big eyes and roused itself, to verify that it was indeed a night-flying bird.

And fly it did, into the deepening shadows, and out of my ken. I was left to negotiate the Ramble in the dark. Still the site of some curious human mating displays, the Ramble is less dangerous than it once was, but confronted with the piercing searchlights of a roving police van, I was almost wishing for the bad old days. A nocturnal bird might have been blinded, or perhaps revealed, but whither the Whip-poor-will had wandered was a question that went unanswered.

You might think that barely seeing a dun-colored bird take wing at evening is hardly worth the effort and endurance it entails. I'm whipped, no doubt, to use the vernacular, and not by any Whip-poor-will (or plain Poorwill, for that matter), but by the great green Goddess Herself. I insist here on the feminine, if only to refute the unwholesome implications of the term "whipped". "Pussy-whipped" is the full phrase, I'm afraid, and it tells much about our awkward relationships, not just between the sexes, but between all of us and Nature.

A man is pussy-whipped when he does obeisance to the Feminine. Or at least when he does so for the sole cause of obtaining sex, regarding any other expression of the attitude as a betrayal of his masculinity. At best, the term denotes an unbalanced interpersonal relationship; at worst it points to a larger pathology, for it ill suits us to resent the native ways of Love. Nor are such ways diminished if we refer to them as "mating behaviors". With birds, it’s generally the male that puts on the display, but no sweet song, no florid hue, can in itself insure the survival of the species. Having won her favor, he still must serve the female and her nest. And he does so, without apparent embarrassment (or scorn from other males).

As for us, our Maleness suffers an agony of contradiction between its premise of power and the necessity of its subservience. If Men have erred on the side of maintaining control, they may be forgiven.
But only by Women.

How deep this runs may be seen in the ballad of the Bitter Withy, a folk expression of the Western deity's formative years. Jesus, the putative Prince of Peace, drowns the neighbor's children because they treat him with just the sort of cruelty that children are so accomplished at. This seems rather harsh, and it should be said that such apocrypha are not endorsed by current Christian authorities, but their popular appeal during the heyday of the religion may reveal something of its psychology.

Even a Christ child can't be allowed to get away with murder. He deserves a spanking. That's where the Feminine power comes in, wielding a fistful of Willow twigs, or withies: a switch with which to whip a naughty little god. The telling part is that our hero is hardly contrite. Rather than accept his punishment, he vents against the innocent Willow, cursing it with an early death.

Based on his later career, (though maybe not his coming one), I suppose we are to assume that Jesus eventually learns his lesson. But the fact that a Christian audience could endorse such behavior: the flouting of the Feminine; the insult to her instruments of action, is indicative of the cult's inattention to our need for goddesses as well as gods. The bad-boy hero is still with us; sometimes rebuked in pious tones, but more often acted out by the true disciples of our mythology.

The hypocrisy is the more pointed in that here we have missed a chance to find a better metaphor. For the Willow, though it does indeed fall earlier than other trees, does not just rot, but from its stumps and fallen trunks puts forth new shoots, filling its former abode with clones. What better picture of rebirth?

Still we mistrust such wisdom, if distaff.
We have turned our backs to the Goddess and Her trees, leaving Her the Moon, and when it sets, the darkness, full of perversity and fear. The creatures of the night belong to Her, and them too, we have decried. Night-flying birds are viewed with suspicion, the Whip-poor-will being no exception. Its family is known as "Goatsuckers", owing to a false belief that they act as milk vampires, attaching to udders, and draining livestock in the dark.

Such strange ideas flourish in the dark. Darkness softens edges, of sight and rationality. At least the night is soft; softness too is Hers. Which summons up another felinomorphic sex organ, one that's also another face of the Willow: the Pussy Willow, with its “furry” flowers. A whipping with the likes of these is no punishment, but a caress of Spring.

Whipped? No, not I, but grown, grown with a certain inclination towards Her will. No poor thing that, yet no more than the will of a wisp of Pussy Willow bloom, blown by an evening breeze that carries, too, (listen close), the whistled notes: "whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will".

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