We can look at the downfall of two birds and learn how a species of wildlife can be so abundant and yet so vulnerable.
There were an estimated 3 to 5 billion passenger pigeons in the forests of eastern North America when the first European explorers set foot on American soil.
Historical accounts of those days report that when they gathered to migrate south, their flocks measured 300 miles long and half-a-mile wide. They darkened the sky for days while passing.
Over the years, for sport and for food, they were slaughtered.
The last known wild passenger pigeon was shot on March 24, 1900 in Sargents, in Pike County, Ohio. Today, its mounted remains can be seen on display at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus.
And on September 1, 1914, the last remaining passenger pigeon in captivity, Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo.
THE DODO BIRD
The dodo was a flightless bird standing about three feet tall and weighing 30-40 pounds. They inhabited only the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
The first recorded mention of the dodo was by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the following years, the bird was hunted by sailors and by dogs they abandoned on the island, while its habitat was being systematically destroyed.
Less than 100 years after encountering men, the last dodo on planet earth was gone.
LIFE BETTER NOW?
Is life better now than way back then?
We’ll have to concede that in some ways, it is. But some of us believe that youngsters of today are missing something valuable when they sit looking at a little rectangular box pushing buttons.
What set me off to writing about this subject for today’s column was my attendance earlier this week of the 80th birthday party of one of those old-time friends. Some of us got to talking about how uncomplicated our lives were growing up in the mid- to late 1940s and the early 1950s.
We would play our games in the village streets until darkness fell and our mothers called us in to wash up for bed. There was no television but we had our favorite radio programs we tried not to miss.
There was no air-conditioning and upstairs bedrooms were hot. With the screened windows thrown up we could hear the whippoorwills calling from the hills above town.
Habit-inducing drugs were non-existent. We didn’t even know what marijuana was.
Our day in the public schools began with a reading by the teacher of scripture from the Holy Bible and a recital by all of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
Most of us came home from school to a clean warm home and the aroma of supper on the stove. Our mothers, using the paycheck our fathers brought home every two weeks, managed the affairs of the home. Hers was a difficult task, really, but we never realized it from the way she always seemed to have time to sit down and listen to our problems.
I’m sure there are some people who can find fault with, or even ridicule, the life we lived back then.
But in the midst of their complaints, they might want to pause and ask themselves this question:
Is our pursuit of happiness in America better now than it was then?
TEACH THEM TO READ
Thank goodness for teachers who strive to build an interest among young people to read books. What a joy for life can be found when we lose ourselves in the pages of a good book.
It’s wonderful the way libraries are holding summer reading programs for youth. A great door is opened to adventure and wonder when children learn to read, and adult lives are enriched if we can only set aside time to read a good book.
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) knew something of the pleasure and treasure of reading when she penned her poem, titled simply:
“He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings.”
Reach G. SAM PIATT at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 932-3619.