When I Die I Want to See the Passenger Pigeons

Martha, we miss you.

Martha, we miss you

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.

We will meet again, dear friends.

We will meet again, dear friends.

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

passWith 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.

We can debate the nature of God and the nature of man. We can admit that animals disappear–sometimes for reasons beyond the scope of man’s foolishness and greed, but must we throw it on children?

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.

pigeon-3-Martha