SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Whippoorwills Are Home Again

By Bob Weaver
The Whippoorwills have returned, their call echoing from a distance across the Joker Ridge, not far from Hur and in the deep woods behind the house.

While fading from the backwoods of Calhoun, the bird has returned these past few years, a harbinger of Spring.

It has been a ritual here in Hur to climb the knoll beside the house and listen to their night calls, or drive to a higher hill to hear their echoes, near and far away.

Their call is considered mournful and lonesome by some, but it also tells of that delightful season to come, the planting season with all its surprises.

The Ute Indians believed that the whippoorwill was the "god of the night," while other folk legends said an unmarried women would listen for a call of the whippoorwill, one call meant she won't get married for a year. Three calls meant she will be destined to be a spinster. Two calls meant impending matrimony.

The whippoorwill song belongs with balmy nights in late April and early May, most usually under moon light, with blossoms yet to lose their perfume and farm work yet to begin. Their eggs, laid on the ground among the leaves, hatch on full moon nights.

The whippoorwill has often been used in literature and music, certainly made famous by Hank William's country tune "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry

Did you ever see a robin weep?
When leaves begin to die
Like me he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry

Then there is Stephen Vincent Benet's "The Mountain Whippoorwill"(Or, How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddlers' Prize):

Up in the mountains, it's lonesome all the time,
(Sof' win' slewin' thu' the sweet-potato vine.)
Up in the mountains, it's lonesome for a child,
(Whippoorwills a-callin' when the sap runs wild.)
Up in the mountains, mountains in the fog,
Everythin's as lazy as an old houn' dog.
Born in the mountains, never raised a pet,
Don't want nuthin' an' never got it yet.

Born in the mountains, lonesome-born,
Raised runnin' ragged thu' the cockleburrs and corn.
Never knew my pappy, mebbe never should.
Think he was a fiddle made of mountain laurel-wood.
Never had a mammy to teach me pretty-please.
Think she was a whippoorwill, a-skittin' thu' the trees.

We conclude with one of our own reader's thoughts of the night bird - copyright ©2005 Janet Lavon Savich:

"Wipper Will Song"

I hear the call of the wipper will
Down in the valleys and into the hills.

The mist in the evening as dark sits in
On the ole country porch with next of ken.

The music they play into the night
The ole wipper will sits just out of sight.

The call is so lonely but takes us back
To our youth and this old wooden shack.

The swing on the porch the quilt is still there
Handmade by a grandmother no longer here.

All the children grown some moved away
But none have forgotten where we used to play.

Sing on wipper will your song will live on
For the ones that remain and the ones that are gone.

We are grateful to have them back to the Calhoun woods.