Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Last of the Curlews
"As the arctic half-night dissolved suddenly in the pink and then the glaring yellow of the onrushing June day, the Eskimo curlew recognized at last the familiar S twist of the ice-hemmed river half a mile below. In the five hundred miles of flat and featureless tundra he had flown over that night, there had been many rivers with many twists identical to this one, yet the curlew knew that now he was home." So the story begins.
Last of the Curlews follows the male curlew from the breeding ground through an entire migration cycle, back to the breeding ground. The migrations are described in detail - locations, feeding, flying, and other migrants on the route. Interspersed with the story of the curlew are excerpts from scientific reports of the early 1900's about the birds and their disappearance. Bodsworth tells the story of the curlew as a trained observer would, factually, avoiding anthropomorphism, rather describing the natural urges and instincts of the species.
In a recent issue of Ontario Nature, an article in tribute to Fred Bodsworth, who died in September 2012 at the age of 93, it was written of the book and the Eskimo curlews:"...shorebirds that once migrated in enormous flocks between the Argentinian pampas and their Canadian Arctic breeding grounds. Commercial hunting in the late 1800's decimated the species and by the middle of the 20th century, the birds were near extinction."
In 1995, the poet W.S. Merwin discovered an old copy of the book and arranged for it to be reprinted. The accurate and beautifully written book, in reprint, is illustrated by Abigail Rorer. An afterword by Murray Gell-Mann concludes : "The human race must get used to the fact that the Earth is really finite. The sooner that occurs, the happier the outcome will be."
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