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April 29, 2005
In the middle of a war, the day after a beloved woman member of the new Iraqi parliament is killed, the day a deranged army sergeant is sentenced to death for killing two officers in a deadly episode of paranoia, in the middle of all this human death at human hands, some other, smaller news: a bird thought to be extinct, one that has not been seen for sixty years, was sighted and caught on video in Arkansas. The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker isn't gone, after all. It's been around these sixty years, small in number and not wanting to be seen. Laying eggs and hatching little Ivory-Bills all these years.

How wise they are in their way, birds: able to build nests and escape predators, able to find food. But there are things they cannot ponder, though, places where their peculiar wisdom cannot help them. What must it be, to be the last of a species? To be driven by instinct to search your life long for a mate and not find one, because you are the only one of your kind left on the earth? To call and call and call in the woods, never hearing an answering call from one of your own: Yes, I'm here, over here, Yes, I want to get married and make a nest and have babies, too, I'm over here, Yes, come quickly! To hear only silence, and to at last fall silent yourself, a disheartened old bird with patchy feathers, the only one left, soon to die of loneliness?

There were millions of them. Millions of passenger pigeons -- early in the 19th century, the sky would darken with their flocks for miles and miles, they were so numerous. Millions of wood hens, until at last they were only found on Martha's Vineyard and finally there was only one old bird left, who eventually got hit by a car.

I walk toward the house from the garden, and hear the rapid staccato of one of our Downy Woodpeckers working on a tree nearby. I cannot see him, but I love hearing him hammer away. The woodpeckers have a special block of suet and seeds on our feeder, which they dearly love. I think of his cousins in Arkanasas, still so endangered, surviving so precariously all these years when we thought he was gone. He may yet go under -- how many Ivory-Bills there are in that woods, we don't know yet. He could still be the last.

Oh, birds! Oh, insects! Oh, frogs! Oh, silent snakes, hiding from everyone, wanting to be left alone to hunt and eat and rest your lives away! Oh, tigers, deep in the forest, meeting fewer and fewer of your kind, felled by your dangerous popularity among human beings! Oh, squid, swimming together in wedge formation near the corals in the sunny sea, fewer and fewer of you all the time! Oh, animals, forgive! We have treated you like one of our own!
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