I wonder if it’s wise to tell children they’re murderers. Are important lessons learned when teachers (almost like gods) insinuate that parents and grandparents killed the passenger pigeon?
When I was seven I discovered the menace I was to the world–not just me, but my parents, my uncles and even my recently deceased grandparents. I learned this at school and never wanted to go back. Until then I watched in rapt pleasure as the house sparrows (invaders from Europe) flitted and chirped around the huge oak tree in the school yard. Before my ecological innocence was shattered I saw the canopied school yard as full of natural delights. At recess we gathered acorns like the squirrels and back inside we pressed autumn leaves under paper and colored the imprints with our crayons.
At one time not long ago Martha Pigeon and her billions of friends roamed the entire breadth of a continent. The enormity of the flocks dazzled humanity into believing the pigeon would never disappear. It is said that as the birds invaded a region even the air smelled of their odor. Tree limbs broke under the weight of the nesting birds sometimes 100 to a tree. Wild pigs fed off the fallen eggs and squab. The noise was terrific.
“From half-past one to four o’clock in the afternoon, while he was traveling to Frankfort, the same living torrent rolled overhead, seemingly as extensive as ever. He estimated the flock that passed him to be two hundred and forty miles long and a mile wide — probably much wider — and to contain two billion two hundred and thirty million, two hundred and seventy-two thousand pigeons. On the supposition that each bird consumed only half a pint of nuts and acorns daily, he reckoned that this column of birds would eat seventeen million, four hundred and twenty-four thousand bushels each day.” http://www.wildbirds.org/apidesay.htm
With no real market for the birds, Indian tribes killed and dried what they needed, using baby pigeon oil as a sort of butter. It’s hard to imagine rats, for instance, disappearing– and would most people care if they did? The markets came and everyone got in on the action. People ate pigeons. Hunters stuffed barrels full of the birds that would live forever and sent them to the cities. Our great-grandparents ate them as the great flocks diminished.
Congress acted, but too late. Martha was the last passenger pigeon and sterile.
Did I need to know this in grade school? Would I be able to understand why God let it happen? Would I turn from God and people only to turn back as an adult with jaundiced eyes and hate?
In fifth grade I wore a big pin on my coat after watching a horrifying segment on Good Morning America (while eating Captain Crunch cereal). “SAVE the BABY SEALS” it said and every morning when I shoved my arms through the sleeves a wave of self-loathing and despair came over me as I looked into the eyes of the baby seal on the pin.
This generation’s wide-eyed innocence is stolen by the “Save the Polar Bear” campaigns. Imagine sitting in class with your just-sharpened crayons coloring a picture of a cute polar cub floating to sea on the last ice in existence. Imagine a child who only just learned to sharpen the damned crayons having to take responsibility for extinction.
There are many well-meaning and decent school teachers but the system is (as all systems are) corrupt. It is an abuse of power to drug active boys and destroy the hope of sensitive little girls.
Scientists are working diligently to bring back the passenger pigeon. Maybe great flocks with roost and make messes on your apartment building. Maybe they’ll bring back the mammoth as well, but what about the innocence of children?
Let them run at recess and collect acorns. Let them discover what is beautiful first and then they may fight for it later.
John Quincy Adams. Shall we bow our heads for an early nap before discussing a white dead president? It’s kind of superficial to judge a person because they’re white and dead, don’t you think? John Quincy was pretty cute (okay that’s superficial) as a young guy, but he was much more than that.
You know how we always love to trash kids who have famous parents? We say they got where they got because their father knew, say, George Washington, but a meeting with a president doesn’t always assure you a brilliant career. John Quincy started his brilliant career at the age of 14. Yes, fourteen. He accompanied Francis Dana as a secretary on a mission to Saint Petersburg. (WIKI)
Do you know any fourteen-year-olds? How many impress foreign diplomats and presidents? Well, maybe Justin Beiber did in his prime, but if you check out John Quincy’s love poems to his wife you might be surprised at Mr. Adam’s sensuous side. So young Adams did have the advantage of being born into a brainy family (funny they lived in Braintree, Massachusetts), but John Quincy’s younger brother with all the same advantages died young of alcoholism.
How many kids today know Greek, Latin, French, German and Dutch? How many consider it a fine hobby to translate Virgil, Horace, Plutarch and Aristotle? Anybody for one more opinion about deflated footballs?
Lest we think young Johnnie had it easy, let me mention his parents. John and Abigail groomed him for moral and intellectual greatness. This was no soft curry-comb grooming. Lovingly and beseechingly–daily, weekly, monthly and yearly–John and Abigail bombarded John Q with “advice.” When excelling at language, Abigail bemoaned his sloppy handwriting. When dancing with the girls in Europe, John Adams Sr. worried he might bring home a horrible Euro-trash girl.
Johnnie could have bolted under the pressure. He could have whined. Instead he wrote volumes in his journals, he translated volumes, he married well and became a great husband and father. These things were done in his spare time!
Here are some of his other accomplishments:
Graduated Harvard and became a lawyer (he thought this terribly dull). Later taught at Harvard.
Became a respected foreign minister to the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Prussia and later Russia.
Became Secretary of State
Was elected President
And then for 18 years decided to hang out in Congress refusing all the while to descend into party politics. This guy had tons of courage. At one time or another everyone hated him. He stood for what was morally right and best for the country he loved. This meant that he vehemently opposed slavery before it was cool. He was a hard-working trail-blazer!
“The discussion of this Missouri question has betrayed the secret of their souls. In the abstract they admit that slavery is an evil, they disclaim it, and cast it all upon the shoulder of…Great Britain. But when probed to the quick upon it, they show at the bottom of their souls pride and vainglory in their condition of masterdom. They look down upon the simplicity of a Yankee’s manners, because he has no habits of overbearing like theirs and cannot treat negroes like dogs. It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?” (Journal entry Wiki)
John Quincy Adams also sat for one of the first presidential photographs:
Okay, this is just for fun. Would you rather be an outdoor man or an indoor one? What type do women prefer?
In the beginning was the Garden of Eden and then we blew it. God said, “Yep, I gave you guys free choice, so have at it in the real world. But, you know, because of your pride it’s gonna be kind of a pain to grow things the way I did for you–and you’re welcome, Adam. Women’s bodies are pretty great. Beauty is my thing.”
So Adam looked around. He waited for someone to tell him how to grow those awesome eggplants God used for his baba ganoush, but the elephants blew water in his face and Eve just moaned about morning sickness.
Adam wiped the sweat from his brow. “Okay, no need to panic. God gave me these heirloom seeds–don’t know what that means, but it’s all I got.”
A goat stood nearby.
“Hey, goat, any words of wisdom?” Adam asked. “I didn’t think so.”
As Adam sowed the seed, “some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”
Adam and Eve had some children and Adam, still kinda thinking he might one day master the Master’s techniques, staked out all the fertile land on earth. He kept wondering why if the whales he and his children killed for blubber and light were so damned smart why didn’t they speak up? Yeah, some of his friends heard recordings of whale songs and stuff, but none of them wrote novels or anything. His friends began to clamor on the internet–humans suck! They need to be done away with for wrecking the soil, but Adam remembered how horrible he felt when one of his own was murdered by another.
Adam turned off his coffee maker, considering the electricity it used. He felt guilty about whale oil . He remembered how excited and happy people were when the first manufactured gas plants were built as a clean and efficient way of lighting the dreary streets (for God’s light still had not been fully understood and harnessed). He read Wikipedia:
“The manufacturing process for “synthetic fuel gases” (also known as “manufactured fuel gas”, “manufactured gas” or simply “gas”) typically consisted of the gasification of combustible materials, almost always coal, but also wood and oil. The coal was gasified by heating the coal in enclosed ovens with an oxygen-poor atmosphere. The fuel gases generated were mixtures of many chemical substances, including hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and ethylene, and could be burnt for heating and lighting purposes. Coal gas, for example, also contains significant quantities of unwanted sulfur and ammonia compounds, as well as heavy hydrocarbons, and so the manufactured fuel gases needed to be purified before they could be used.”
Adam hung his head in shame. Why had he not known that the clay soil he thought would protect the earth from the unwanted hydrocarbons was not sufficient and that Superfund clean-up crews would be needed years after the last gaslights were extinguished? Maybe it was humans who needed to be purified before being used, he thought, but his pride had never been conquered and once again he set out to grow things on his own terms.
He’d find a way. He’d invent pesticides and fertilizers. He’d organize mass movements against pollution even as he used the technology that created the pollution. Things were getting out of hand, so he popped a few more pills to quell his growing anxiety at the state of the soil before heading to the beach.
Adam cried out on the edge of the dying sea near Fukishima. “Whales! Whales! Come close and tell me the secret of the soils and the fishes! If I worship you will nature come back?”
A whale surfaced. Its big, soulful eye expressed the groaning of all creation. Adam sat in the sand and wept. A small still voice came then. This voice was familiar though nearly forgotten. “I love every sparrow, every lily, every whale. Adam, you search and search for fertile soil. You deplete everything you touch. You’re not in Eden anymore and no amount of clicking your heals together is going to change that.”
“But why? Why didn’t the gas manufacturing work?” Adam asked. “Or the organic certification? Why won’t designer babies work? Anyone has to be better than Cain was. Why can’t I just grow those damn eggplants without bugs and bad weather? I added plenty of manure and compost!”
The voice said, “PRIDE.”
“In the Garden–remember? You wanted to be gods.”
“Yes,” Adam said ruefully.
“The opposite of pride is ENOUGH,” the voice said. “The opposite of pride is gratitude and generosity and love and with love there’s God.”
Adam jumped to his feet. “I waited for the trees to speak to me, but it’s you, isn’t it? God?”
“Yes. And with God all things are possible. Love the soil I made for you and love even the people who despise the soil. Gently plant seeds in them. It’s not too late to save the soil.”
Lori Fontanes at What The Ducks invited me to meditate on how we can save the stuff our food grows in. Any ideas or thoughts?
Oh, those beautiful gas-lit 19th century streets–the ones before evil Edison came along and turned everyone on to electric lighting. Before coal was dirty it was part of a “clean” energy source. We used to manufacture gas to light things with. I’m not talking about modern natural gas, but gas created by a special technique of burning coal and other organic materials in low-oxygen enclosed ovens. Much better than slaughtering whales, right?
Why is it that clean is never clean? Life is that way I guess. So when the next clean energy took over, gas manufacturing went out of fashion (though there are whispers of it’s return). Saratoga Springs, New York like many other cities inherited a Super Fund site and some beautiful photos of what once was the pride of the energy community.
LEARN MORE: History of Manufactured Gas
Photos by Daniel Pratt courtesy of Library of Congress