Will this nominee fly?

During election years two proposals have a habit of popping up: 1. Abolition of the Electoral College. 2. Repeal of the eagle as our national bird.

We have no strong feelings about the first proposal. In fact, we have always found the Electoral College a charming anachronism -- a downy old dodo bird, to make the connection with the second proposal, about which we do have an opinion.

While not favoring the turkey as the often-nominated replacement -- how could you bury your symbol in cranberry sauce and giblet gravy every Thanksgiving, we ask you? -- we do feel the eagle is too imperial, too predatory a symbol to suit the Nuclear Age.

Since drastic mood swings are the characteristic of our times, we suggest that our national bird, like our president, be elected to a limited term. We propose for the national bird of the '80s -- or less -- the woodpecker.

The mythology of the woodpecker seems made for the moment. Here is a persevering bird that works for what it gets. Here is a survivor of all seasons , accepting without flinching all of life's blows, including its own.

We used to worry our head off about the woodpecker and its head -- especially the head of one woodpecker who operated mostly on the north side of our house. At the crack of dawn our woodpecker would be up whacking away at a tasty clapboard. He specialized in sudden arrivals and sudden departures: the abrupt opening drum-roll, and the equally abrupt silence, leaving one's ear in suspense. We never caught him at quitting time -- the adjective does not seem to apply -- but we imagined him glassy-eyed after a hard day's work, wobbling off into the sunset.

The respect we developed for this dedicated bird! We would have felt honored to write a job recommendation for him. Talk about your staying power. Talk about your self-starting. If Aesop had ever met a woodpecker, he would have recognized a fable by the second whack. Moral: If at first you don't succeed, peck, peck again.

One day our woodpecker left forever. We assumed it was because the house got painted and the new paint was the wrong flavor. But still we worried. No more -- not since we read an article in the latest Science 80 magazine, titled "Why Woodpeckers Don't Need Helmets." California scientists report that nature's little jackhammer hits a tree trunk at a speed of about 15 miles per hour. The jolt, among other things, is 285 times what an astronaut experiences during a Saturn V blast-off.

But our gamester keeps its neck tense at the instant of impact while blinking a fraction of a second before that -- to avoid a chip in the eye -- and no harm gets done.

What a creature! It works with the devotion of a Japanese automobile assembly line -- and it takes its 15 mph collision a lot better than the cars that come off that line!

The eagle soars, glares, flashes a profile, and stays as far above the daily scene as a Fourth of July orator. The woodpecker digs in, puts a nose two inches from the job, and goes to it.

The eagle is our fantasy; the woodpecker is our task.

The California researchers indicate that it took merely the sound of a typewriter tapping to set their woodpecker going. We trust that -- figuratively speaking, of course -- our hunting-and-pecking will have the same effect.

Without further ado, as they say, we nominate the little toughie for American bird of 1980. If only we can get a matching president with as sharp a nose for dry rot!

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