When Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers And Carolina Parakeets Became Rare, Ornithologists Collected More Instead Of Fewer. Today, I Can See Hundreds Of These Birds In Museum Drawers Across The World, But Not A Single One In The Wild. They Became Extinct Before Anyone Had Even Studied Their Behavior.
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John James Audubon Left Us A Lovely Painting Of Carolina Parakeets In The Wild, But When I Read His Account Of Producing The Painting, It No Longer Seemed So Lovely To Me:
The Living Birds, As If Conscious Of The Death Of Their Companions, Sweep Over Their Bodies Screaming As Loud As Ever, But Still Return To The Stack To Be Shot At, Until So Few Remain Alive, That The Farmer Does Not Consider It Worth His While To Spend More Of His Ammunition. I Have Seen Several Hundreds Destroyed In This Manner In The Course Of A Few Hours, And Have Procured A Basketful Of These Birds At A Few Shots, In Order To Make A Choice Of Good Specimens For Drawing The Figures By Which This Species Is Represented In The Plate Now Under Your Consideration.
When The Early American Nature Writer John Burroughs Had Trouble Identifying A Bird He, Too, Would Shoot It. “It Is For Such Emergencies That I Have Brought My Gun,” He Wrote. “A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Half A Dozen In The Bush, Even For Ornithological Purposes; And No Sure And Rapid Progress Can Be Made In The Study Without Taking A Life, Without Procuring Specimens.” When I Read His Account Of Shooting A Screech Owl, I Was Almost Pleased To Note That Burroughs’S “Sure And Rapid Progress” Ended With Him Six Feet Underground.
Although James Branch Was Beautiful, It Did Seem To Go On Forever; I Even Lost Interest In Watching For Darners. Finally One Of The Lost Boys Reached Phase Three. “How Much Further?” He Called Back To Tucker. Bless You My Son, I Thought. Tucker Said We Had About An Hour To Go.
He Was Right. We Got To The Bridge After Another Hour Of Paddling, Swimming, Wading, Tugging. My Feet Felt Like Giant Prunes Floating In Rubber Sacks Of Water. For The First Time In My Life, I Didn’T Load My Own Canoe Onto The Carrier; I Stood By Gratefully While The Lost Boys Did It For Me.
One Of The Best Things About Adventure Is The Relief In Having Survived It Without Harm. I’Ll Call That Phase Four. The Hero’S Journey: She Goes Out, She Returns.
Two Weeks Later, I Got Another E-Mail From Tucker. Note That He Has Stopped Calling Me Professor Maloof.
Yes, I Made It Back Safely. I Just Came From My First Two Classes And In An Hour Will Be Happily Going To My First Plant Taxonomy Class. I Am So Grateful You Came To Our Park. You Don’T Know How Much Our Excursion Meant To Me. I Would Say It Was The Pinnacle Of My Summer, But Things Have Been Going Up Ever Since Then. I Thank You For That, As Well As The Patriarch. As The Seven Of Us Canoed That Day, I Felt As Though I Was Learning Something About Myself, Nature, And The Art Of Living Well. Thank You For Imparting Your Wisdom, Not Only About Trees, But Also About Living. I Especially Took To Heart Your Advice That A Career Isn’T Set In Stone, And That, No Matter What I Do, I Can Continue To Change.
Thanks Again, Have A Great School Year!
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