Hot wind and wrong names.

I’m standing on the north shore of a small, woodland lake. The wind is blowing out of hell.

It’s a hot wind. But temperature is not the reason it’s from hell. This wind has come up here after blowing over Chicago, which sits to the south. It carries factory smells, car exhaust, burnt rubber from highway tires, greasy urban humidity.

A Green Heron comes in for a landing. His skinny wings stretch and slow him, like a jet on a carrier. He walks in the shoreline mud. Doesn’t see me because I’m not moving, just watching.

Green Herons are small for herons, but have the predatory beak and long legs. It hunches its shoulders, and is all eyes, looking for fish or frogs.

It’s got orange legs, white neck, a rusty body. What it doesn’t have is the color green.

Yeah, there might be a weak excuse for some vague greenish-gray on its back, but this doesn’t cut it.

Reminds me of another heron, another visitor to this lake, another misnamed bird. The Great Blue Heron. It’s tall as a big kid; with eagle wings, long legs and a sword beak. It’s gray, white and black. What it’s not is blue. It’s a great heron, okay, just not a great BLUE heron.

When the wind is blowing out of hell, you get pissed about little things.

Author Raymond Chandler wrote that when L.A.’s hot Santa Ana blows, “…it can…make your nerves jump and your skin itch…every booze party ends in a fight…”

I think about bird names, and wonder what the hell caused some to be so wrong.

Herons are only part of it. The Great Crested Flycatcher isn’t great, and doesn’t have a crest. It’s pointy headed, but so are other flycatchers. Including one called a Peewee.

Ever see a Red-bellied Woodpecker? I like the word “belly” and think it’s amusing in any bird’s name. But this guy’s belly ain’t red.

Then there’s the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Same thing. Although, there’s a tinge of yellow near the crotch. But not much. You couldn’t even call it a Yellow-crotched Sapsucker.

And the Bald Eagle’s not bald. It’s got a full head of thick, white feathers. The Golden Eagle’s not gold; it’s brown.

And so it goes.

True, some birds have okay names. The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher works. Especially if you spot one while it’s catching gnats. And the Blue-footed Booby’s a good name, because it’s got blue feet and it’s a Booby.

The Green Heron takes off while I’m thinking this. Must’ve got tired of finding no food on my shoreline, or maybe he noticed me. He flew south, into the wind.

He moved with healthy energy, comfortable in his own body. He didn’t know that he was called a Green Heron even though he’s not green. Or that the wind was blowing out of hell.

Why should he care about such things? Why should I?

3 Responses to “Hot wind and wrong names.”

  1. Two-Fisted Bird Watcher says:

    You got that right, Marc. I figured there’d be some well-read guys out there who might know this story. I like our shortened version of the quote, though. Chandler was a two-fisted writer, but his “noir” thing is a downer. Still, when the wind blows from hell, you think of him. Thanks for the comment, pal.

  2. Marc D. says:

    I read your “Hot Winds, Wrong Names” just now. You left out part of that Chandler quote from his story, Red Wind…. “It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen….” Good writing, man.

  3. J. Adams says:

    Came across this on Illinois Birders Forum and enjoyed it. My feelings exactly about the name of the green heron, also the other birds which are often misnamed. Nice story. I’ll be back.