Thursday, November 11, 2010

Showing the Birds

Look, children, here is the shy,
Flightless dodo the many-colored
Pigeon named the passenger, the
Great auk, the Eskimo curlew, the
Woodpecker called the Lord God Bird,
Come, children, hurry-there are so many
More wonderful things to show you in
The museum’s dark drawers.

Every one of the species named here have haunted me in dreams, nightmares, and waking reflection.  It is for them that I pursed avian veterinary medicine and work now in conversation.  I ache that we no longer have the divinity of such a large woodpecker amongst us, or the native Carolina Parakeet nesting in my backyard in Florida.

I was quite aware of the missing parrots in Florida when I first moved here 4 years ago.  For Florida was the last state where they were last reported in the wild. In fact, I read, that the only Carolina Parakeet  eggs anywhere were in my new home of Gainesville. I called up the museum curators to ask if I could see the eggs. For me it was a hajj of sorts – I had to see them, honor them, mourn them, and see with my own eyes what was left of beauty.

The curator granted my request for an audience with extinction. He led me into the museum’s basement and we walked up to a set of drawers where the extinct lay in waiting.  He opened drawer after drawer of preserved Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, Passenger Pigeons, and Carolina Parakeets.  It was a ritual of mourning. In the last drawer, in a special box, were 3 eggs.  These eggs came to be here because egg collectors sold eggs for a living, and even though the parakeet was deemed extinct, this one collector knew where nesting birds still flew free.  He did not tell anyone the location – he went for the short term benefit instead of the one where maybe, just maybe collective will may have led to conservation of these birds and their continuance amongst us.

I feel such loss, but do not lay blame at the collector’s feet.  My own life is full of decisions that benefit me and others in the short term.  If I waver from the long view, may I remember those museum drawers and dedicate my life to work that is a prayer that we don’t need to build more museums to hold wonderful things.

How do you balance short term benefit with those more long term?

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