Skinny as a rail

I should be happy as a clam. Nearly all my field guides and bird checklists are strewn on top of an open atlas.  I am reference geek girl, and I have the cape to prove it. If only my big red dictionary could join the party!

Last Thursday after a truly restoring walk near the creek at MY nature preserve, I startled a critter in the trees.  Expecting a glimpse of a quickly departing cottontail, I was surprised to gradually focus on a long-necked and slender brown bird mincing around in the underbrush.  It held its funny, short yellow tail up as it walked like the handle on a gravy boat

My photos of the mysterious bird were miserably unenlightening. No amount of zooming in or fussing with the contrast could reveal the bird's ID.  Pouring over my field guides, the bird looked like a rail, Virginia or Clapper. Scrolling the bird checklists, any rail is an unlikely visitor.  I know my kildeer and plovers, and this isn't one.  A sora?  Maybe.  Not a woodcock, I think. It does not work for Mr. E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad.  Butch and Sundance are not dynamiting his train car.

This is my grandma, Halma Fern Burkhead Mastalir.  Skinny, but not "as a rail".  She was not a bag of bones, as she had way too much spark.  She was so skinny she was nicknamed "Slats".

Do you think E. H. Harriman would get himself killed for you - Woodcock?" To get at the safe and its money, an explosive dynamite charge blows a large hole in the wall of the railroad car, injuring Woodcock. Concerned, Butch revives the bloodied agent on the floor of the car: "Woodcock, you alright? Hey! Whatever Harriman's payin' ya, it ain't enough. 

This may be a combination of "skinny as a rake" and "thin as a rail".

© 2011 Nancy L. Ruder

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Thanks for this and for the link to rails (birds)! I learned stuff here and there!


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