P3 greenbelt Passenger_Pigeon_poster_final

 

A unique event took place on February 20 at the Green Belt Cultural Center in North Chicago, Illinois. Sophie Twichell, director of the BrushwoodCenter at Ryerson, was the principal organizer, bringing together nine LakeCounty conservation organizations t to participate. Sophie has a particular interest whcih we both share: bringing the arts and science/conservation together. This program epitomized that overlap.

I had reached out to Paul Doughty, a birding friend who is also an accomplished fiddle player and singer, to see if he would be interested in recruiting other musicians to play passenger pigeon music. He was excited about the idea and brought into the program Jason Watts, a guitar player and vocalist, and Jim Loftus, who plays the steel, slide and blues harp. I sent Paul a sampling of passenger related music and poetry that ranged from the 19th century to current times. They selected a popular ditty from the 1850s that goes:

“When I can shoot my rifle clear,

To pigeons in the skies,

I’ll bid farewell to pork and beans,

And live on pigeon pie.”

Our exaltation of musicians.

Our exaltation of musicians.

The other two songs were contemporary. The late John Herald,  a leader among blue grass musicians, wrote Martha (Last of the Passenger Pigeons) is moving lament to  the loss of the species. The Handsome Family’s “Passenger Pigeons” uses the pigeon story as a haunting metaphor for lost love. I had long thought of a presentation where  the performance of these songs could be incorporated  into a talk. It worked perfectly, and the four of us finished our time up front with plenty of time for David Mrazek to introduce our documentary, From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction. David showed a ten minute scene fron the film, the first public airing of any of it. I was quite pleased with everyone’s response.

 

Rob with alligator.

Rob with alligator.

And as yet another treat, Rob Carmichael and his crew from the Lake ForestWildlifeDiscoveryCenter, brought a varied collection of  live reptiles. It was delightful to watch Rob holding a small American alligator, a species once threatened with extinction but which has since bounced back to become a common sight in the southeast. The hog-nosed snake (a fascinating species that scares off potential threats by flattening its head like a cobra; failing that it flips over on its back and plays dead) also had its fans.

Sophie and I really wanted this event to be well attended but we were worried about the weather. Predictions called for howling winds, freezing temperatures, sleet, and flooding. If it was warmer, I am sure we would have been expecting locusts. It turned out that, except for the winds, the prognostications were worse than what actually happened. And we were excited by the turn out: over 140 people were there including Laura Ericsson, a  distinguished ornithologist and author who came all the way from Duluth, MN just to be at our show.  (It usually takes a boreal owl to get Chicago birders to travel to Duluth.). She is wonderful.

And perched from his  table, Heinrich surveyed the crowd and activities with satisfaction.

 

Heinrich being admired.

Heinrich being admired.

 

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