Sunday, November 14, 2010

MARTHA by H.C. Klingman

Martha was the last Passenger Pigeon on earth.
Ectopistes migratorius.
Martha’s line is extinct. Dead as a Dodo.

She died in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914, and was sent to the Smithsonian in an iceblock to be skinned and mounted. A statue in her memory stands on the grounds of her last home.

There were billions of Passenger Pigeons in the sky to greet the white settler. Audobon saw them darkening the sky in enormous flocks of up to 300 miles in length that took hours to fly by. He estimated the flock to be over 2 billion birds.

They were cheap food for slaves, and easy to hunt. There were no restrictions. In 1857 the Ohio Legislature ruled that the Passenger Pigeon needed no protection, and that they were numerous enough. 57 years later they were extinct. A $3000 prize was desperately offered, too late, for a nesting pair.

Whole boxcars full of this pigeon’s meat went East from Michigan and Wisconsin. There were efficient commercial hunters who knowingly wiped out the last great flock of 250,000 birds. They may have celebrated. It is doubtful they cared. Resource exploiters seldom do.

How paradoxical that Martha, the last survivor of her race was given the last rites in Ohio. Her statue can be seen as a decent gesture, but not quite repentance.
Mine is the sad voice of creatures past, with tales of extinction, of killing animals that once lived. They were the victims of greed and human destruction. You have a misnomer for it: “harvesting.”
If you listen carefully in the still of night, in the time of the Dream-moon when the wind is still you may hear it. Sometimes it is a howl, but it can be a yelp, or a hiss, a bleat, croak or cheep, screaming thinly, unheeded. Listen! They are gloomy calls, perhaps for mercy, cries that have passed down through the ages, unable to convey meaning. Scarcely heard, they cannot penetrate the advanced brain of the superior order of Man.
It can be a mew or bray, a snarl or wail, any or all of these, faintly echoing through the veil of former being; ghostly voices that cannot reach Homo Sapiens, where deafness filters out the mournful sounds of animal agony telling of beings that once enjoyed a birthright but were stamped out of existence.
There is not even a word in your language for wiping out an animal race. “Zoocide” would come close, but has not yet been invented because no word for this human action is thought necessary. Only human life is dignified enough for precise nomenclature.[1] Words need thoughts before they are invented. You have them when you kill or murder each other, but when you kill us the act becomes permissible because you say it is. Your egos make it impossible to conceive of any relationship to animals or any other aspect of nature except one that exploits.
Zoos are not there to perpetuate or warn but to confirm your superiority, and satisfy your curiosity. Your solution to preserving the species is taxidermy. In the march toward human destiny there is no place for us except that we have utility to yourselves. Homo Sap forever, tops on the food chain; consumer of all, efficient destroyer of other species though inhabiting the same world.
Why are you unable to understand that all living creatures have their own imperatives for survival. The struggles of the largest whale against an exploding harpoon are the same as the shudders of a netted bird. The fight to continue life is the same in us all, you included.
Nature’s plan once allowed you to take the beasts of the Garden, but you plundered this patrimony taking far, far more than can ever be replaced. This crime is against all nature.
Fauna disappeared in whole flocks, herds or swarms: vertebrates, quadrapeds, mammals, marsupials, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, mollusks, worms and insects. They were shot, speared, hooked, netted, smothered, drowned, asphyxiated, stabbed, stoned, trapped or poisoned. Human ingenuity has always found ways to make the hunt lethal enough to kill huge populations of us, without restraint.
Where once Cod ran so thick you could walk ashore on them, there are only sporadic individuals. They once fed Europe, but that fishery is now dead, hunted beyond its capacity to maintain the biomass within the last few decades.
There are certain whales and Tigers whose numbers you have reduced into the few hundreds or less. The American Bison is like the Indian, thinned out and reduced to living on welfare in reservations. Buffalo Bill Cody, who killed both, lives on as a frontier hero.
The Great Auk’s exit in 1850 was a shame because he was useful for fishbait or feathered cloaks. Australian hunters eliminated the Tasmanian Tiger by 1936, because he liked chickens and sheep. The Dodo became food for Australians only until 1681, a scant century since being spotted by the first white man. There was the Quagga, a Zebra/Horse. The last one died in an Amsterdam Zoo in 1883. Stellar’s Sea Cow, 35 feet of meat and leather was eliminated within 30 years of its discovery. The black Rhino went in 2006, its horn needed for dagger handles by macho Arabs, while the last remaining Caspian Tiger was shot in 1957.
Can you imagine the pride of that hunter…the distinction in having bagged the ultimate specimen, closing out the race with one well-aimed shot? There is no greater thrill on earth.
You have sacrificed us on the altar of your own Moloch destroying a part of yourself in the process. In your little world, effects of mismanagement as trustee will be surely felt. In the dynamic universe it will scarcely be noticed, even as you too become extinct. You are the most dangerous animal of them all. I, Martha, and five billion like me know.
Sic transit Gloria!

[1] regicide, parricide, fratricide, homicide, infanticide, aborticide, genocide, and suicide,