Lessons for 2019 from a yellow-bellied sapsucker

Published 4:31 pm Thursday, December 27, 2018


Contributing columnist

From my office window, I can see one of the pear trees in my front yard. I find myself staring at the tree as I await a wave of creative inspiration to wash over me. The tree has morphed from full-leafed green, to full-leafed red and gold, to no leaves-gray. The gift of no leaves has given me a yellow-bellied sapsucker to watch as he toils with his jackhammer face.

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This little dude is tenacious. He drills small holes into the tree in search of sap. I thought he was a red-headed woodpecker, but did some research just to be sure. A sapsucker is a type of woodpecker according to many internet sources.

I love to learn new information and how to do new things. A quick glance at my resumé proves that my attention span is curious, varied, and short. The common thread through all of my professional, volunteer, and recreational endeavors is my desire to make a difference in this life.

As 2018 becomes 2019, and I’m in my 56th year of life, the sapsucker is the perfect metaphor for doing life.

He shows up. Red is on the tree every day. He is there in the rain, the cold, and the wind of December. He’s out there right now drilling holes in my tree. I can hear him even when I can’t see him. He’s there, doing his thing.

Red is persistent! The first time I saw him, I’m pretty sure he was new to the tree. He knocked around in a few places, then left. I didn’t see him for a couple of days. I suppose he was flitting around the neighborhood looking for the best tree. I am thrilled and honored he chose my tree. Now he’s out there every day.

Red believes in this tree. He’s out there right now pecking at holes he drilled. He moves around the tree, but keeps coming back to a particular set of holes where several branches jut out from the main trunk. I don’t remember much of anything from my plant biology courses, but it seems he has found a stream of sap at this branch junction.

The little dude is a hard worker. There are three places I can see where he’s drilled trial holes. Can you imagine doing all of that work only to not find what you’re looking for?? (This would be an excellent place for a law school metaphor, but I’m going to resist.) He kept drilling, trying out different places in the tree until he found the mother lode of sap.

He rests occasionally. As I’ve been writing this column, he’s hammered and hammered and eaten and eaten. I’ve noticed a couple of bathroom breaks, but mostly he hammers and eats. At one point, he stopped hammering and stretched his wings. And now he rests.

I am going to take a page from the life of Red for 2019. I will show up for my family, friends, strangers, and even for myself. I will persist in my pursuit of helping the marginalized, the underdog, the lost, misplaced, and invisible people who seem to be of no use in our current politicized society. I will continue to believe in my personal mission of educating adults on the importance of educating children. I will work hard in my endeavors and will remember to pause and rest.

I hope your 2019 is better than your 2018. I’m looking forward to new opportunities to learn, grow, and make a difference. What are your plans?

As for Red, he took a short break and is now back at it, hammering and eating alone in the drizzly, cold December weather. I hope he will bring his family to my tree in the spring. I’ll let you know.

G. Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.