The sound of the grackle just gets me. I realized that today, sitting at my desk in Connecticut, and taking a mid-afternoon Y0uTube break. I noticed some new videos from Mérida, and clicked on one. The topic was not grackles, those brazen black birds that seem to be everywhere, but their sound in the background was just magic to me. More than the images, it was the sound that transported me back to the Centro.
I think I first encountered grackles on a business trip in San Antonio, Texas. I was a little put off. I felt like Tippi Hendren on that little motorboat. They had taken over a tree across from my hotel. It was early in the morning and I was out looking for coffee. It was like encountering a street gang. I looked ahead and kept walking. I couldn’t have imagined at the time that I would one day warm to these creatures, and even crave hearing their shrieks.
Now I notice them in parks and along the Paseo de Montejo, but not nearly as much in backyards where perhaps the trees tend to be smaller and less welcoming to large communities. Waiting for those early-morning flights to Houston, there’s a giant ceiba tree visible from the gate; it appears to be a grackle habitat. They make such a racket that not even the sound of a jet engine can compete, and this little slice of nature is a refreshing complement to the glass and concrete that surrounds it.
When I redesigned Ralf Hollmann’s Modern Yucatan Dictionary to publish its fifth edition, I commissioned numerous spot illustrations from Greenwood, an artist whose work always charmed me. One of the final pieces was this (left), which to me captures the manic, irrepressible nature of the kau.
Sad that Greenwood’s grackle is buried in a book, I later replaced the Mayan symbol on my blog’s header with the more expressive inky figure. It makes me smile a little whenever I look at it. Ralf’s book, by the way, is the best seller of everything I’ve published through Hamaca, despite the fact that it was in print for years before I signed an agreement with Ralf. People really are interested in the language and want to understand the culture of Yucatán, and Ralf’s light touch in reflecting on his 20 years living, raising a family and doing business in the region, makes reading a dictionary from the first page to last an actually pleasurable experience.
Want to know more about grackles? Here’s what our resident zoologist and birder Cherie Pitillo say about grackles.