Wednesday, September 8, 2010

14. Extinctions

C. W. came to me in a dream last night. At least I think it was a dream. You never know about him. I was sitting on a fallen tree by a well-worn path in a tropical rain forest. I knew the place from the slightly sweet rotting smell of fecundity and the bright colors of the forest flowers flashing against the dark background of the giant trees. I remembered it all from a trip to a similar place in Puerto Rico taken long years ago courtesy of the United States Navy.

A group of children came along the path laughing and singing. One split from the group and came to me. She was six or seven years old and a throwback to a time around the end of the 19th Century. Rope-like ringlets dangled from each side of her head in blond profusion and she wore a white dress adorned with lace and embroidery. She could easily have been Carroll’s Alice.

She walked silently up to me and then spoke. “Want to see something interesting, Mister?” Then she shook the front of her dress and looked down. The small green head of a snake appeared from beneath her bodice and looked around with interest. It nuzzled her cheek, looked at me with what appeared to be a grin, and slid back into hiding.

“You do know, don’t you Jimmie,” she said. “That in the Victorian era young girls used to keep green tree-snakes in their dresses for sport and to keep cool?”

“I have read that, C. W.” I said.

“It must have kept the snakes warm as well,” he said. “You don’t see such co-dependency among the two species these days. You know that don’t you?”


“Then you must also know that Homo Sapiens are one of the most destructive forces on the planet.”

“True that.”

“Why, do you suppose?”

“It may be that we are evolutionarily disposed to have a short-term perspective on life.”

“Hmm,” she said. “You know it means your ultimate destruction.”

“I suspect so.”

“Want to know the saddest image I will take from your planet when I leave?”

“I would hate to guess.”

Martha - The last Passenger Pigeon
“The image of Martha.”

“Martha Washington?”

“No, Martha the last Passenger Pigeon. The one who lived out a long, lonely life in a Cincinnati zoo without a mate to save her species. Just sat on a perch, staring into space and, we may hope, not thinking about being the last. I think they stuffed her when she finally died.”

The young lady straightened her blouse and felt to make sure her pet was safe and then brushed her hair from her shoulder with her hand.

“I have to leave now,” she said. “Enjoy the forest.”

She turned to leave, but then said over her shoulder: “Next year it will be a golf course.”

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