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The Observer May 12

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Mel White, a Little Rock man who makes a living writing about birds and nature and such, got in touch with the Times after the big news about the ivory-billed woodpecker finding came out. “I hear that a bunch of Yankee birdwatchers claim they’ve found some extinct woodpecker living in the swamps of east Arkansas. People were calling me about it from all over the place — Morrilton, Lake Village, West Memphis — I mean all over the place, and I didn’t have any idea of what they were talking about. Except for a story somebody sent me from NPR radio ... like I’m going to believe anything on that station. “So I called my friend Luther, who owns a combination convenience store, video store, laundromat and bait shop over in Brinkley. “ ‘Washers and Wigglers, this is Luther.’ “ ‘Hey, buddy, it’s Mel. How’re things in Monroe County?’ ” “ ‘Man, I tell you what, it’s craziness around here.’ ” “ ‘Yeah? What’s goin’ on?’ ” “ ‘I put in one of them cappaseena machines and I can’t hardly keep the people out with a stick. My gross was up twenty-seven percent last week.’ ” “ ‘A cappuccino machine? I didn’t figure you were so uptown, Luther.’ ” “ ‘I put it right next to the Krispy Kreme stand. My parking lot looks like Wal-Mart. It’s like I was sellin’ dope ... that crystal methiolade stuff.’ ” “ ‘Actually, I was calling to check on the rare bird people are talkin’ about. You keepin’ up with that?’ ” “ ‘Them ivory-beaked peckerwoods? Shoot, everbody around here’s known about ’em forever. We coulda saved them university people a whole lotta time if they’d a-just asked us. ... Wait a minute.’ ” “Luther held the phone away from his mouth. ‘Hey, you! Them cups there is for the Icee machine! Don’t be puttin’ your coffee in that! I’m gonna have to charge you for a Super Grandee. ... Sorry, bud.’ ” “ ‘That’s okay. So you’ve actually seen one of ’em? Your ownself?’ ” “ ‘Does a possum wear a fur coat? I’ve seen thousands of ’em. Now, I’ll admit they ain’t as many as they used to be. When I was a kid we had ’em nestin’ in the sweetgum tree in the backyard. They used to drum on the tin roof of the garage and wake us up ever’ mornin’. I shot one once and made me a Indian headdress out of the feathers. ... Wait a minute. Can I hep you, sir?’ ” “Luther put the phone down, and I heard a northern-accented voice say, ‘Excuse me, but I notice from your sign that you sell fishing equipment. Would you happen to be familiar with the Bayou DeView area? And perhaps with a bird called the ivory-billed woodpecker?’ ” “ ‘As familiar as I am with my own dear wife, and that’s purty damn familiar. I have them birds on my property like green flies on fresh dog dookie.’ ” “ ‘Well, then ... Excellent! What would you recommend as the best way to see one?’ ” “ ‘I would recommend that you buy this here map, which will lead you straight to them peckerwoods while at the same time avoiding the alligators and cottonmouth moccasins that are so prevalent in these parts. The price is forty-nine ninety-five, plus tax.’ ” “ ‘Goodness, that seems expensive.’ ” “ ‘How far did you come to see this bird?’ ” “ ‘We came from Salem, Mass.’ ” “ ‘That’s a hell of a long way. You wanta see it, or not?’ ” “ ‘Well ...’ ” “ ‘Uh-huh, I thought so. We do accept credit cards. But not that American Express. Yeah, Visa’s fine. And listen, my friend, there’s been four or five people in here this morning that’ve bought this map, so you might run into some other folks when you get to my land. If they ain’t seen that bird yet, you just tell ’em to be patient, okay? You gotta be patient.’ ” “He picked up the phone again, and I said, ‘Hey, now, Luther ... You really got them woodpeckers on your property?’ ” “ ‘Hey, yourself, buddy. They been seen up by Cotton Plant, and they been seen down around Clarendon. So it just stands to reason that they fly by my fishin’ camp sometime, don’t it? And I’ll tell you somethin’ else, too.’ ” “ ‘What’s that?’ ” “ ‘I know what caused them birds to get so rare, and it weren’t cuttin’ trees and clearin’ land like they claim.’ ” “ ‘No kidding. What was it, then?’ ” “ ‘It was Bigfoot. He jumps around them cypress trees like a big ol’ monkey, and grabs them peckerwoods right outta the air as they fly by. Eats ’em like they was M&Ms. Ivory beaks and all.’ ”

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