A woodpecker lands on the patio table and starts to knock the pointy end of his beak against the pole which holds the parasol up. I am gazing out at the patio while I ought to be writing. Witnessing the woodpecker makes me realise this is the same inconsistent rapping I hear rising from the oak outside my window in the morning. This is my American alarm clock. I had not yet lifted my head from the pillow to check.
Since the beginning of autumn I have been on a residency in a Walden-esque cabin beneath an oak tree. In Iowa. In the Mid-Western United States. When I tell people this, they wrinkle their noses and say ‘Iowa? Really?’ I assume they expect me to be in some more eclectic, cosmopolitan part of the continent. I’m flattered by this assumption. (I must give the impression of being more eclectic and cosmopolitan than I actually am.)
At my desk in the cabin, I’m trying to write something about an experience I have not yet experienced. All I have is a festival programme. A lattice of electronic strands. Some vacillating expectations. I picture the faces in the programme waiting for me in The Hague with their pens, pages, plectrums at the ready. Now I remember, of course, none of us are there yet. We are still scattered across the globe, oblivious to the small routines of each other’s days. The views beyond each other’s windows, the rhythms by which each of us write. Or sing. Or play.
I begin to type a sentence to the woodpecker’s beat, but almost at once, perhaps realising the pole is not a tree and tastes like bitter varnish instead of wholesome wood, he flies away.
The music I write by in Iowa started with the soft shrieking of cicadas, lawn-sprinkling systems and mowers. As it became autumn, the music transformed into leaf-blowers, the ticking of my electric heater, the whistle of a distant train. They coalesce into a shambolic sort of symphony. Inconsistent as the woodpecker. Impossible to translate into any language.
I give up on trying to write. Douse my screen. Reach for my scarf instead. As the cabin door clicks shut, I meet my woodpecker again. Now he is rapping the timber boards of the cabin wall. He seems less offended by paint than he was by varnish. He ignores me as I pass.
And as I pass, I remember: woodpeckers peck, not to make a mark, but to make a noise. Pecking is language to them, music. They peck not to taste, but to communicate.
Even though none of us are there yet, I realise, it’s never too early, and we are never too far apart, to begin a conversation. I must extract the electronic strands from the screen of my laptop and cast them out into Iowa. In Prairie Lights bookstore, I can convert them into physical, readable objects. On my aimless walks, I can carry the songs with me, hum them to the footpaths, the river, the chipmunks. Some of the strands make me think of friends faraway in more eclectic, cosmopolitan places, and so, I must throw them to my friends, stretching a new lattice.