top of page

What's in a Name

Whippoorwill Creek inhabits my earliest memories, days of sun and water, rain, freeze and flood. It sustained my small self, encouraged my imagination and was my playmate when I had no other. This creek was my best and only pastime on chilly spring mornings, long summer days, crisp fall afternoons and frigid winter nights. There was not a season that it did not succor me in my solitude. It nearly consumed my life one winter flood when I walked on it's swollen ice flows, and in a moment fell through into the frigid current. I barely had time to flounder when it spat me out onto a log across it's stream.

Whippoorwill Creek is a 'secondary' stream in the annals, the smallest stream with a name, but large enough to carry water most days of a year. It meanders from south to north across our farm, joined by a smaller stream just south of the homestead.

Eastern Whippoorwill

The creek's bird namesake, the Whippoorwill, abandoned it's banks these many years. I remember the call, can still mimic it with my own whistle, that one that I haven't heard in so long. As I grew up that call became less and less frequent until one summer when I was 8, we heard only one lonely bird calling all summer for a mate, but no mate came. None have come since.

Man diverts waters, razes mature woodlands and fills the streams with trash and toxic runoff. Open understory in remaining mature woodlands fill over time as fire suppression and non native species dominate open spaces, ruining it's chosen habitat. It cannot compete, has died trying.

Predators have also taken their toll on this ground nesting bird of the Nightjar family. Before human extirpation (a very scientific phrase for 'to root out and destroy completely'), wolves, mountain lion and bear kept the Whippoorwill's main predators, raccoon and coyote populations under control. Since that extirpation over a hundred years ago, the raccoons and coyotes have burgeoned, becoming the apex predators as they hunt the Whippoorwill unchecked.

A creek flows passed an outcropping of rock on the right and a tree on the left.
My favorite spot on Whippoorwill creek as a child. Home to minnows, crawdads and my best childhood memories.

So I chose the name, Whippoorwill Creek Farm. It's long, difficult to fit into the small spaces paperwork allows and requiring frequent spelling over the phone and in person. But it is a beautiful name, a name that has a deep meaning and connection to this place I now steward. We are growing the trees and clearing the trash, eschewing the chemicals that make farming easier. I move my cows daily, not letting them trample too much or too long, fencing them away from the stream bed and banks of the creek, letting the wild riparian places return. For the wolves, bear and mountain lions, I can do nothing, though I would welcome them back. Against the raccoon and coyote the Whippoorwill must make it's own way, I can only supply places to hide.

And sometimes as I travel the farm, the memory will come to me of that last Whippoorwill calling and calling, whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will and I will call back with my own whistle - a placeholder for the time when these little birds will be heard again on this stream, on this farm that is so much a part of me.

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

sasha stiles
sasha stiles
Sep 11, 2020

John- keep whistling!!!! I will ask my brother the ornithologist who whistles all the time how to get them to return. Keep whistling!

bottom of page