Are Common Serbian Woodpeckers Frightened of Bulgarian Scarecrows? (The 19th Letter)

29 May 1958

Beograd, Yugoslavia

Between the green leaved oaks lining the boulevard to the rear of the cathedral, to the left of the fourth shadow of the second grandest leaf, ninety two meters from the national library, where Dimitri Shostakovich is playing in my head.

Dear Comrade Milos, Twice Recipient of the Order of Marxist-Leninist Nature and Recent Guest Speaker at the All Republic Gathering of Socialist Ornithologists:

The seconds became minutes and then compile themselves into hours. I am afraid, like the time I encountered the darkness of my house without electricity, that eternity is unable to be contained by my words alone. Do you also fear time and the dark? Dear friend, does this mean we are getting old? In the hours since breakfast, I now feel even more alone and compelled again to write both questions and answers; as I am the only one who knows what I seek.

The juice, made from the Montenegrin apples was so fresh, do you not agree? The Kosovar woman who waited on our table reminded of both my second wife and mother. Perhaps it was because they were both kindly in the early morning way and provided me juices without asking?

Summer has arrived early this year. Don’t you think so? To be this warm in late May leads me to forecasts a warm summer. Tourists from as far east as Moscow and as north as Warsaw will come to beautiful Belgrade. Must everyone holiday in Dalmatia? Our work, dear friend, does not stop because every machinist in Prague needs a week’s leave.

I know you are busy for I can hear you at work. Might I propose both a question and idea? As our streets grow crowded and summer falls upon our beautiful land, shall we head east? It has yet to be proved that the Picus Virdius* migrates beyond the mountain passes. Could this not be the time, even the reason, to travel to Bulgaria? The lush Bulgarian cornfields, rolling for miles, are guard by hundreds of плашило. We call them scare crows. Bulgarian birds are frightened of these stick figures made to resemble Ottoman sultans and Nestorian heretics, and Russian generals. It is known, however, that images Ottomans, heretics, nor Russians frighten the common Serbian woodpecker. What say ye? Shall I call the station and purchase two tickets to Sofia? Perhaps Shostakovich will perform?

I do think this could be our opportunity to capture the elusive Serbian woodpecker. Unlike like the time we were in the place with the man who told us about the road that went to the other town that was near the city where the trees were that might have contained a single bird, I feel much better about this new plan.

If this is to reach you before tomorrow’s post, I must find make haste for the evening post.  I humbly await your reply.  And the arrival of my stamps.

Your friend,


*Picus Viridus-Common European Woodpecker


Food for Thought-The Priest in Priština (The Ninth Letter)


2 May 1957
Belgrade, The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Between the arrival of the post and watering of the three dying plants

Dear Friend and Colleague,

Though only chronological hours have elapsed, I feel there has been a long silence between us. If I cannot read, I cannot know. It will be a great delight to me to receive your next letter. I do wonder what transpires of your life and affairs beyond breakfast. Does the toast linger with you through lunch? Are the consumption snacks and chocolates part of your afternoon as well? These are facts I can no longer remember or recall.

The unaccustomed joy to which I was moved in recalling the legend of the Grand Vizier* brought fragments of the tale of the Picus Viridius* closer to forefront of my own mind. In the south, closer to Pristina*, the bird was said to fly from tree to tree. To the amazement of one village priest, the startled creature would simply stop pecking upon one tree in one location and move to another, without any warning at all. This pattern would continue hours at a time. It is my belief that the day, in the place, by the road, adjacent to the restaurant, where we saw the brown horse turning left, may have been in the path of one such quest to find a new and better tree. Како то може бити?*

Until tomorrow, when more questions await.

Yours truly,


*Grand Vizier a title of Ottoman Turkish authority
*Picus Virdius the common European Woodpecker
*Pristina the capital of Kosovo
* Како то може бити?* Serbian expression, left in the original, “How can this be?”