Banner outside U of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

Banner outside U of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

It was all of a 60 mile or so drive to Ann Arbor where I was to give the annual William Farrand Memorial Lecture at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History the following evening. There was no grilling or very much talking of any kind as I crossed the border and headed to my destination.  I parked in the appropriate lot and walked around to the entrance while banners quivered in the breeze. Amy Harris, director of the museum, and Gene Dillenburg, head of exhibits, have been exceptionally supportive of Project Passenger Pigeon from early on. I was certainly familiar with the downloadable panels Gene’s team had made but I was anxious to see the actual exhibit that was created for the museum.

William Mershon panel.

William Mershon panel.

A brief digression. Michigan is one of the msot important states or provinces in the history of the passenger pigeon. Many of the big nestings during the 1870s, including the last large nesting at Petoskey in 1878, occurred within its borders. Michigan was the one and only jurisdiction to ever ban all killing of the species (unfortunately that law was passed in 1897 when there were virtually no wild birds left, but it was nice gesture.) And the first book length account of the bird, The Passenger Pigeon, was authored by William Mershon, a life-long resident of Saginaw in 1907. Besides having a sizable collection of passenger pigeon skins and mounts, it has nets and stools that were used in the hunting of the birds. Mershon bequeathed much of his materials to the museum, including mounts and the original Louis Agassiz Fuertas painting he commissioned for his book.

Sidewalk mural in front of School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Sidewalk mural in front of School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The museum did indeed have a wonderful exhibit. A block or so away is the building that houses the universities School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). It had evidently been a good mast year the previous fall as passenger pigeons were evident all over the place. There were pigeon tracks stenciled on the ground to guide the visitor from the musuem to the SNRE. Then on the steps leading up to the school were colorful chalk depictions of the species. But the big roost was inside largely through the works of Sara Aldertein-Gonzalez. Sara is an Associate Research Scientist who specializes on the ecology of the Great Lakes. But she also loves art. In the interdisciplinary spirit that permeates SNRE, she identified an under used space and received permission to turn it into an art gallery. Lots of places participated in Fold the Flock to create origami passenger pigeons. But Sara had her students make their own individualized paper pigeons, and this flock hovered below the ceiling. The gallery itself was used to display the marvelous creation of Ann Rosenthal and Stefi Domike entitled Moving Targets. Their work draws a parallel between the destruction of the pigeons and the forced emigration of their Jewish grandparents from the Ukraine. They augmented images and story with the drawings of other artists to form a really unforgettable exhibition. (Besides Ann Arbor, the piece was hosted by Duquesne University, Brushwood at Ryerson (near Chicago, and Cornell University.

Kira Berman and Sara Alderstein-Gonzalez

Kira Berman and Sara Alderstein-Gonzalez

A reception at SNRE was planned for the appearance of both me and Ann. We each gave short talks which was followed by questions. This was the second and final time this year that I met an elderly person who as a youth knew older people who had once hunted passenger pigeons. One degree of separation . . . The formal talk at the museum was well attended and drew friends like Destry Hoffard and Ralph Finch, who were instrumental in helping me find historic photos.

Origami passenger pigeons in School of NRE.

Origami passenger pigeons in School of NRE.

The Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Michigan is a place I had visited once before. Kyle Bagnall is a naturalist who works there whom I met in April 2011 when we held a Project Passenger Pigeon organizing meeting at Michigan State University. Kyle agreed to be the Michigan coordinator and did a superb job. Over 30 organizations within the state offered displays or programming. I was invited to give a talk for the nature center’s Bioblitz in the afternoon while Kyle was scheduled to  give his passenger pigeon presentation (Michigan oriented) at 11 am. I had very much wanted to see how other people presented the pigeon saga but this would be the only opportunity. I arrived at Chippewa in plenty of time and was delighted by Kyle’s talk.  There were wonderful quotes from old sources I was not familiar with: but that is not really surprising, as Kyle is a first-rate researcher in addition to being a fine presenter. Among the visitors was a class from Alma College led by ornithologist Mike Bishop, who participated in the bioblitz by operating a bird banding station. He and his band of students met us for dinner prior to my talk.

Standing; Abigail Fergus, Blogger, Prof. Mike Bishop, Kyle Bagnal and rest of Alma crew.

Standing; Abigail Fergus, Blogger, Prof. Mike Bishop, Kyle Bagnall and rest of Alma crew.

As I scheduled travel for 2014, one of my great fears is that I would some how double book or forget a booking. Neither of those things ever happened, thank goodness, but the worst planning I made involved the evening talk in Midland and the following morning. Here is he e-mail I sent Kyle on September 15 when I realized what I had done: ” I do not know how this happened but I just made a horrifying discovery. I am scheduled to leave for Washington DC at 7 am on Sept 21! So that means when I am done with my talk at Chippewa in the evening of Sept 20, I need to head straight back for home. Eeek! I have never used Red Bull  type products but this might be a first.”

I did buy a bottle of 5-Hour Energy in case I needed a jolt over the course of the five hour drive home. As I was leaving the nature center close to 9pm someone asked me if I wanted to take some homemade apple cider donuts (coated in spice sugar, no less). I no longer eat donuts (as is apparent by my well-sculpted physiognomy) but heck I took a couple anyway, if just to be polite. Well as I approached the Indiana border, my energy level began to sag and I gobbled a donut. Somewhat later, impressed by the first one, I consumed the remaining one. Not long after, I suddenly was wracked by chest pains, severe heart burn I was confident. The upper gut had processed the sweetened deep friend dough and let me know it was unhappy. But nothing relives drowsiness and kicks you into alertness better than extreme pain. The miles just passed by as I cruised homeward with ease. By the time I arrived, the I felt fine and could fall asleep for the few hours I had allotted.

Unusually prolix passenger pigeon label at U of MI museum.

Unusually prolix passenger pigeon label at U of MI museum.

 

Passenger pigeon netting gear including the stool on which the live pigeon was placed.

Passenger pigeon netting gear including the stool on which the live pigeon was placed.

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