Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ribbons for Trade, and Musing on Pigeons

I bought some stuff from Goodwill thinking they were genuine typewriter ribbons. But they aren't, so if you want them, let met know and we'll work something out. $15 or maybe a trade could be arranged.

x2 black ribbons
x6 correcting tapes

Also, if you have a Studio 44 parts machine, let me know. I want to see if the key tops are interchangeable with my Underwood 21.

Excerpt from The Milwaukee Journal, August 30, 1914.

Go to Wikipedia. Look at this picture and then look at the red-on-black "EX" icon below its name.
You know that this is not going to be a happy story.
It's like looking at a ghost...

"Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons. Trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a decade hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know."  - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1946

I wrote a time-traveling story a few months ago. It's about a group of thieves pretending to be tourists so they can steal valuables from the past and sell them on the black market. It revisited the age old question "Where would you go in time if you could?" I can think of a lot of different places I'd go, people I'd meet, but three stand out at the top of my list.

1. Meet Jesus while He was on Earth.

2. Witness the first recorded supernova in 185 AD.

3. Witness a flock of passenger pigeons fly over when the species was at its zenith.

The passenger pigeon was a unique bird that would have been both awe-inspiring and terrifying to watch. The total population was anywhere between 3-5 billion birds. It was larger than today's mourning dove, capable of flying at 65 mph. Aldo Leopold went on to describe the flock as "a biological storm" and "thunder from the firmament." To the average farmer, who was desperately trying to feed himself and his family, they would have been comparable to feathered locust. To slave owners, it was one animal that they used to feed another.

And there's not a single one of them alive today. The last one died in captivity in 1914, before my grandparents were born.

I did a little research on these pigeons for my tours. Felix Valle would've eaten his fair share in his lifetime (1800-1877), so I figured it was a good idea to mention it. But the more I read, the more I became fascinated with them.

What was it like? I kept thinking. 

Every year, from Wisconsin and Michigan to the Gulf Coast, people looked up as the sun was blackened by the arrival of "the storm." With two volleys from a shotgun, one might bring down a hundred birds. You were considered less than a ranking amateur if you could not. Like the western lands acquired in 1803 and the war of 1848, it was thought to be an infinite resource. 

Today, the passing of this species is considered one of the greatest crimes of humanity against nature. "Martha" became the poster child of a budding conservation movement. Scientists have attributed many factors which ultimately led to the species' extinction. For example, the pigeons refused to mate in flocks below tens of thousands in number. Their breeding ground was small compared to their migratory range, made up of parts of Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia, places where the new Republic was trying to expand, and that meant deforestation. 

And yet, I find it hard to believe that we would have learned the proper lesson if not for its untimely death. Sure, we might have enacted enough laws to save it. We could have done it, but at what cost? Would a different species altogether have paid the price? Historically, we've learned from past mistakes. Trial and error. We were only doing what other nations were. Manifest Destiny. Conquest. If we had wiped out a smaller species, I wonder if it would have had the same impact.

Could we, someday, extract DNA from the 1500 passenger remains currently being preserved and use that to resurrect the species, a la Jurassic Park? Maybe, but aside from the practical concerns of trying to reintroduce a species that vanished from the wild over 100 years ago, there's always a hidden danger. 

A tragic story, but it served a higher purpose. I think the pigeons had a role to play and they played it well. Thanks to their act, we were shaken from complacency and can now enjoy any number of other species which would have similarly been eradicated.

But there are days when I stop and look up as a strong north wind blows through my hair, and I wonder...

What would it be like?


  1. Eugene seems to have gone the same way. :)

  2. A few months back I ended up reading about the poor Passenger Pigeons. Even if we bring them back via genetic methods, the true nature of the PP is lost forever.

    Also of note, they had a peculiar trait that helped lead to their extinction; they would not reproduce if the flock was not large enough. For whatever reason, unless they were surrounded by thousands of their fellows, they lost the desire to procreate. An odd Darwinian twist.

  3. There is a monument to Martha here at the Cincinnati Zoo.