High on the Plains: Woodpeckers, mackerels and other scenes of degradation


Chad Christensen, Columnist

There’s a northern flicker having its way at the bird feeder this morning. No other bird is willing to deal with him. And I wouldn’t either. He’s a big one and demands respect. I think I’ll leave him alone for now. I thought about letting my cat out to see what might unfold but he seems lethargic today, which would render him worthless in a fight. Especially against a giant woodpecker. I was tempted to just shove him out the door regardless, hoping this would excite some prehistoric instinct within him, but he ran off before I could corner him. The woodpecker seemed indifferent during all this.

This left me standing next to the fish bowl, which is placed on the buffet table in our kitchen. I was eye to eye with our sad and lonely pet fish. He was blue when we first got him, but he’s a sickly gray color now. He has lived two years longer than we ever thought he would. When he first arrived here, several other fish, including a giant goldfish, accompanied him. We figured the goldfish would survive and that the others would eventually die. And within a month most of them did, mainly because the goldfish had been eating them. Then the goldfish died too, which I thought was probably because he choked to death while eating one of the other fish. That left us with old Blue Fish and he’s been holding on ever since.

I’ve formed an unusual (and probably unhealthy) bond with this fish. To me, he is the epitome of what it means to be a true survivor, one who perseveres in the most terrible of situations. To battle deadly goldfish oppression, unsafe water conditions and then to become a castaway on a watery island only to stare out at hairy meat creatures he can’t possibly understand— that seems heroic to me. And unreal.

Blue Fish reminds me a lot of my friend Dan. He lives in similar circumstances. And he’s about to go to jail, I believe. He wouldn’t tell me why and I didn’t push the subject. His life has been colorful, and lonely. But unlike Blue Fish, many of Dan’s problems have been self-induced.

It was during a drunken game of Clue that I first saw some of the folly poor Dan could inflict. It had been snowing a lot that day so we invited people over for a snow day to have some cocktails and play board games. All through the neighborhood, people were scooping snow. The children were building snowmen. It looked like something out of a Rockwell painting. Across the street, my neighbor’s children had built two snowmen. A child snowman and a parental snowman. From our window, it looked as though the snowmen were waving at me.

When Dan got there he was already in a pregame drunken state and he was ranting on and on about the snowmen everywhere. So we perched him on the loveseat and started feeding him cheese and crackers to sober him up. This didn’t help. By the end of the night, he became outright abusive and belligerent and threw poor Colonel Mustard across the room, nearly hitting one of our other guests in the eye. After that, he decided to leave but requested a single carrot if we had one. He wanted to build a snowman in the moonlight. We did, so I gave him one. We just wanted him out of the house.

This next morning, I got up early to let the cat out. I looked out the front window and there it was. A desecrated snow child. Dan had repositioned the snowmen across the street into a provocative pose. It was horrific. It appeared as if the older snowman was fondling the snow child. Dan had taken the carrot from last night and used it as improvised genitalia.

I quickly ran out the door and sprinted wildly across the street. I was wearing only my long johns as I proceeded to smash the snowmen into oblivion. I grabbed the carrot and ran back into my house. I wasn’t sure if anyone had seen me. Two hours later the children came out of the house and they were weeping uncontrollably. Someone had smashed their snowmen.