Birds of bright plumage are not common in the North, and the woodpecker, with his bold, chequered patterns and crimson-tufted head, provides a welcome note of brilliance on his short, darting flights from tree to tree. And he dearly loves a noise. To keep the beaver from cutting down some of the best trees near the cabin, I have been obliged to put high, tin collars around the bases of them, and these are a godsend to the woodpeckers from all over the country, who amuse themselves by rapping out tinny concerts on them with their beaks. It has long been my custom to be up and around all night, going to bed at daylight, but no sooner am I settled when, at the screech of dawn, the woodpeckers commence a rattling tattoo on the tin. The result is a clangourous uproar to which salvos of machine-gun fire would be a welcome surcease, and in the midst of this unholy pandemonium I am expected to sleep - sometimes succeeding, and sometimes not. This diabolical racket takes me back somewhat to my earlier trapping days, when I had no clock, and in order to insure my early rising, I used to freeze a piece of meat solidly into a tin dish and set it on the low roof of the shack, directly above my head. At the first streak of daylight the whiskey-jacks would hammer on the frozen meat, creating a clatter in the tin dish that would wake the dead. I believe I can claim to be the sole inventor of this very serviceable alarm; and it had one disadvantage not shared by alarm clocks in general, that when the weather was bad it remained quiet, as the birds didn't show up, or if it was snowing heavily the sound was deadened, and I knew then that I didn't have to get up.
Grey Owl, Tales of an Empty Cabin, Macmillan of Canada and St. Martin's House, 1936, p. 284-285.
TIME: ca. 1930
PLACE: woodpeckers at Ajawaan Lake in Saskatoon; other northern Ontario or Quebec
CIRCUMSTANCE: Grey Owl remembers the old days