early april 2014 050

On April 9, Cindy and I drove to Springfield, Illinois to give a talk at the Illinois State Museum. This was set up by Terry Martin, a museum anthropologist whom I had interviewed in the course of my research for the  book. I am quite fond of this museum (and it is something it shares with most state museum): founded in 1877,  it is an interdisciplinary treasure devoted to the land, life, people, and art of the state. As we entered, we saw the exhibit that was most vivid in my memory. One reads how the force of a tornado can drive a straw deep into a piece of wood. In the museum, they have a tree trunk that has been penetrated a good few inches by the blunt end of a board. Photos accompanying the specimen show a man hanging by his arms from the board to show how deeply it was held by the trunk. The museum  also boasts some lovely models of passenger pigeons and Carolina parakeets in flightas part of a permanent exhibit,  but they will also have some special displays for the pigeon anniversary.

The force of a tornado.

Shortly after we started our walk we were approached by Bonnie Styles, who is the museum’s director. She had just finished a conversation with Terry who mentioned in passing that Cindy and I were in the museum. We had met one other time briefly and she wanted to say hello. She then gave us a grand tour of the museum, transforming our visit into something almost magical. She has been at the museum for quite a while, starting as a curator, and so she was able to provide us with her rich insights and marvelous anecdotes. Many museums have been forced to shed curators, but due to Bonnie’s insistence that research is an important element of the museum, the institution still boasts many first class scholars.

Bonnie and Cindy.

Bonnie and Cindy.

The talk drew over 100 people and there were great questions afterwards. Maybe the highlight was when a gentlemen in a cap came up and introduced himself as Marc Miller, the Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. I  could not have been more surprised or pleased. He and I had never met but, when I co-hosted a radio show a few years ago, he was a guest whom we interviewed over the phone. On the way home we stopped at Goose Lake Prairie. Eastern meadowlarks and field sparrows sung from the grasslands, though the lake was devoid of white pelicans or other water birds. As we retraced our steps back to Rt 55 we noticed some wet flats off the side of the road that were filled with ducks and spiced with shorebirds. When I stepped out of the car to use the scope, many took off,, but there were yellowlegs, gadwalls, both teal, and masses of shovellers. A nice end to the trip.      

Passenger pigeons from the Illinois State Museum collection attending my talk.

Passenger pigeons from the Illinois State Museum collection attending my talk.

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