Katrine Claassens, 2018
2014 marked the 100-year anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. People lauded the species in articles, videos, and celebrations. Nearly 50 articles—found everywhere from NPR, to the Atlantic, to the New Yorker—were published about the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, at the Cincinnati Zoo.
In many articles, we learned that R.W. Shufeldt, the man who dissected Martha, left her heart untouched (a fitting tribute), and that Martha’s specimen travels first class with a special handler. We learned there was a memorial launched at the Cincinnati Zoo, a place that has become a reliquary to Martha, with passenger pigeon-themed exhibits and a statue to mark her passing.
There is a part of me that will always love pests like pigeons or houseflies or starlings. It’s the part of me that thinks the maligned often have their own value, their own stories to tell when we get to know them.
After all, I once was that person in school. I was teased, as so many kids were teased, as being without value to my peers.
So when I see a maligned animal species that people have assigned as being without value to them (often through very little thought or speculation), I see myself in it.
Besides, there is something respectable, even heroic, in the scrappy survivor.
The Cabin Idaho asked me to teach a writing camp for kids this summer in conjunction with The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey. Yesterday afternoon I and two awesome Cabin staff (Katie & Ashley) met with the education coordinator at the center for a tour and planning session.
I mentioned that I found the book A Feathered River Across The Sky about the extinction of the passenger pigeon deeply moving and was planning a writing activity around passenger pigeons and other extinct bird species.
The education coordinator mentioned that though they deal primarily with birds of prey, they had a passenger pigeon in their specimen collection.
Naturally, I got super excited when he mentioned that we also might be able to swing by the specimen collection to view it.