Cool Stuff from Recent Reading

  • from That Distant Land, by Wendell Berry

— “Miss Minnie,” Tol said, “the boy can drive. He can take us to the Fair.”

And Miss Minnie said, “Oh, why didn’t we think of that before?”

She thought and then added, “But, Mr. Proudfoot, won’t it be too expensive?” They were then in the very pit of the Depression and, though she and Tol owed nothing and had savings, she felt that it was appropriate to worry.

“Well,” Tol said, “we ain’t going probably but this once. If we average in all the times we haven’t gone and all the times we ain’t going to go, it’ll come out pretty cheap.”

— As always his hat was set far back on his head as if that was just the place he kept it in case he might want to put it on.

  • from A Feathered River Across the Sky, by Joel Greenberg

— Nothing in human record suggests that there was ever another bird like the Passenger Pigeon. At the time the Europeans first arrived in North America, Passenger Pigeons likely numbered anywhere from three to five billion. It was the most abundant bird on the continent, if not the planet, and may well have comprised 25 to 40 percent of North America’s bird life. When the flocks moved for migration or foraging, the earth below would be darkened by shadows for hours: famed naturalist John James Audubon recorded a pigeon flight along the Ohio River that eclipsed the sun for three days.

Only the firmament itself could absorb the legions of pigeons without being marked. When the birds descended to nest, feed or roost, hundreds of millions of birds would sprawl across the landscape. The largest nesting on record took up 850 square miles. The birds congregated in numbers large enough to literally destroy the trees on which they gathered. Whether a site offered stately old oaks or scrubby willows, observers described the devastation as similar to that of tornadoes or hurricanes.

— One of the largest flights of Passenger Pigeons ever described in detail occurred at Fort Mississauga, Ontario, in May of what was probably 1860. Major W. Ross King was an English hunter and naturalist who spent three years traveling through Canada in pursuit of its “picturesque solitudes” and the wildlife that thrived within these prairies, forests and waters so thinly settled by humans. He had hoped to see one of those vast movements of Passenger Pigeons about which he had read so much, and he was not to be disappointed:

Early in the morning I was appraised by my servant that an extraordinary flock of birds was passing over, such as he had never seen before. Hurrying out and ascending the grassy ramparts, I was perfectly amazed to behold the air filled, the sun obscured by millions of pigeons, not hovering about but darting onwards in a straight line with arrowy flight, in a vast mass a mile or more in breadth, and stretching before and behind as far as the eye could reach.

Swiftly and steadily the column passed over with a rushing sound, and for hours continued in undiminished myriads advancing over the American forests in the eastern horizon, as the myriads that had passed were lost in the western sky.

It was late in the afternoon before any decrease in the mass was perceptible, but they became gradually less dense as the day drew to a close … The duration of the flight being about fourteen hours, viz. from four a.m. to six p.m., the column (allowing a probably velocity of sixty miles an hour) could not have been less than three hundred miles in length, with an average breadth, as before stated of one mile.

During the following day and for several days afterwards, they still continued flying over in immense, though greatly diminished numbers, broken up into flocks and keeping much lower, possibly being weaker or younger birds.

King never offered a numerical estimate, but Schorger, assigning two birds per square yard and a speed of sixty miles an hour, concludes that the flight involved an amazing 3,717,120,000 pigeons.

Forty years later the species was almost extinct, and by late afternoon on September 1, 1914, it was completely extinct when Martha, the last of her species, died in the Cincinnati Zoo.

  •  from Seamanship: A Voyage Along the Wild Coasts of the British Isles, by Adam Nicolson

Perhaps, in the end, we are all removed from the lives we would like to lead, emigrants and exiles to a man. [When I read this, I thought of Romans 8:18-25.]

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