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Ivorybill!

I heard this story on NPR this morning — Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Rediscovered in Arkansas — and thought of the references to the “ivorybill” in Walker Percy’s 1971 novel, Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World (cf. the Korrektiv masthead).

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Fran sits around catercornered, leg tucked under her, to see me. “You catch us on the crest of the wave,” she tells me. “We are ten feet high. Our minds are blown.”

“How’s that?”

“Tell him, Colley.”

“We found him, Tom,” says Colley portentously. “By George,we found him.”

“Who?”

“He’s alive! He’s come back! After all these years!”

“Who?” This morning, hauling up a great unclassified beast of a fish, I thought of Christ coming again at the end of the world and how it is that in every age there is the temptation to see signs of the end and that, even knowing this, there is nevertheless some reason, what with the spirit of the new age being the spirit of watching and waiting, to believe that—

Colley’s right hand strays over the tape deck. The smooth shark skin at the back of his neck is pocked with pits that are as perfectly circular as if they had been punched out with a tiny biscuit cutter.

“Last Sunday at 6: 55 a.m.,” says Colley calmly, “exactly four miles west of Honey Island I—saw—an—ivory-billed—woodpecker.”

“Is that so?”

“No question about it”

“That is remarkable.”

“Do you realize what this means?” Fran asks me.

“No. Yes.”

“There has not been a verified sighting of an ivorybill since nineteen-three. Think of it.”

“All right.”

“Wouldn’t that be something now,” muses Fran, breathing on her binoculars, “to turn in a regular Christmas list, you know, six chickadees, twenty pine warblers, two thousand myrtle warblers, and at the end, with photo attached: one ivory-billed woodpecker? Can’t you see the Audubon brass as they read it?”

“Yes.”

“Of course we have to find him again. Wish us luck.”

“Yes. I do.”
———————————(p. 387-8)

Comments

  1. Doug Stotz says

    A bird that is that big and flashy, and to think for so many years that it was extinct, then find it an hour away from a city as big as Little Rock, is pretty extraordinary. You think you know everything there is to be known about North America, but this shows we don’t; there’s a lot out there we still don’t know about it.

  2. Greg Butcher says

    It’s just like a miracle – I had given up on this bird. This discovery is just off the charts. There’s just been nothing like this in my lifetime.

  3. John Fitzpatrick says

    Through the 20th century, it’s literally been every birder’s fantasy to see this bird. This is really the Holy Grail for birds. It’s legendary, it’s mysterious, it has been a majestic symbol of America’s South

  4. Jonathan Rosen says

    Some 20 inches long, boldly patterned with black and white, the ivorybill is so beautiful that Audubon likened it to a Van Dyck painting.

  5. Marnie Eisenstadt says

    Researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology found the ivory-billed, thought to be extinct for the past 50 years, in Arkansas last year. They announced their find Thursday. The lab has since received dozens of phone calls and close to 200 e- mails from people who think they’ve seen the ivory-bill. Most of them live in areas where the ivory-billed woodpecker simply wouldn’t be. The bird comes from the swamps and old-growth forests of the Southeast. Many of the calls and e-mails have been coming from Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, where the similar pileated woodpecker resides. There are about 900,000 pileated woodpeckers in North America.

  6. Julie Hauserman says

    For birders, documenting an ivory-billed woodpecker sighting has been the Holy Grail. Now the Grail has been claimed in Arkansas. The lone ivory-billed is living on the 55,000-acre Cache River National Wildlife Refuge — land that the federal government wisely set aside in 1986 as an investment in the planet. If that land had been drilled, or chopped down or paved over, we’d never have the miracle of this tenacious bird.

  7. James Gorman says

    Emily Dickinson was right: hope is the thing with feathers. What she didn’t know was that it lives in an Arkansas swamp and has a big ivory bill.

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