Friday, June 28, 2013
Ricky the Roadrunner
Really? Roadrunners aren’t purple with a yellow beak and feet?
My mom was thinking something like that when, years ago, she saw a roadrunner for the first time after moving to Texas from the Chicago area. It had never occurred to me that certain parts of the country know absolutely nothing about roadrunners until I had to explain one to my aunt from Michigan. (She got a real kick out of it!) “They’re about this tall (one foot) and they have a long tail; they’re brown, black, and gray and kind of spotted on the chest. They have a black crest. They remind me of a tiny dinosaur, actually. When you see them, they’re usually running, and they really do run on the road! They eat lizards and insects.”
I also told her about the one that lives near our house. My dad named it “Ricky.” He appears to have a mate, though they look so similar it’s hard to tell if we’re seeing a different bird or the same one. They’re usually around everyday, in the front yard and sometimes even in the fenced backyard, completely unperturbed by us or our dog. There’s a patch of untrimmed woods at the front edge of our property, by the road, and a friend has told us that she’s seen them hanging out there when she passes by; it might be their nest, because she saw a youngster there, too.
Roadrunners typically live in the desert, so maybe we’re on the eastern edge of their range. It’s fun to have such a strange creature stake out a place in the neighborhood! I’ve heard Ricky the roadrunner (or his mate -- shall we call her Lucy?) outside my window where I write at my desk -- I’ll look out, and there he is, his crest and his tail levering up and down while he calls. His call is a bit like a … little dinosaur. I think of Jurassic Park’s velociraptors, which is weird because we have no idea what dinosaurs sounded like, thank goodness! But the sound Ricky makes is an urgent, whirring, clattering call, if that makes sense. I can’t find the exact sound online, or else I’d post it.
A roadrunner shows up in my novel Six Cousins. I just had to include it in this story that, in part, celebrates Texas, because roadrunners are a special aspect of living here -- they add to the atmosphere, like live oaks, juniper cedars, cattle, and all those rainbow-droplet wildflowers!
The Austin family at the zoo …
They were looking at the roadrunners. “The one that runs down your road all the time is cuter,” Caroline remarked.
“Ha! How can you tell?” I asked, forcing cheerfulness. I was thinking of my mom, applauding her stand but worrying about the argument.
“He seems to have fluffier feathers and a longer tail, and his eyes aren’t so wild-looking. And his crest is the most perfectly-shaped crest ever.”
I really laughed then. “If you know that much about him, why don’t you give him a name?”
“I will. Let me think for a second … how about Michael? Unless you were going to use that for the boy in your picture ….”
I grinned. “You can use it. I’ve been thinking of other names.”
“Michael the roadrunner!” Caroline pronounced.
“Sounds athletic,” Emma said.
“Athletic? I guess, but that’s giving it an unattractive, modern connotation. I prefer to think of Michael as a classic, old-fashioned name.”
“Then I can’t believe you’re using it on a roadrunner. Don’t waste your favorite names,” I told her.
“I’m not wasting it. I can easily give Michael to something else.”
“Okay, if that’s the way you think of it,” I said. “But what will you say when the son you name Michael finds out that you used his name on everything from every boy character you ever created to a roadrunner?”
“That I’ve always loved the name, since I was eleven. I think that’s quite a compliment to it.”