On a rainy Friday last week, The Observer burned a whole tank of $2-and-something-a-gallon gasoline to go hear a guy talk about a unicorn. Not even to SEE the unicorn, just to hear someone who had seen it talk about it, and convince me he wasn’t lying. We’re talking, of course, not about a true unicorn but about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, a bird that supposedly went extinct in North America around 1940 as the old-growth forests it used for nesting and feeding largely disappeared. Since then, the Ivory-Billed has become the Bigfoot of ornithology, with sightings coming in every year to state parks all over the South, most ending up in the circular file.
Then, lo and behold, we flipped on National Public Radio the other day to hear that an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker had been seen and photographed in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in East Arkansas.
The Observer was stunned. After “stunned” wore off, a strange kind of giddiness overcame us, and we rushed around telling everybody we could the good news. When word came that they were going to hold a press conference on Friday, we dashed out the door with a notepad in our back pocket, and sped the whole way.
The problem is few seem to be taking the rediscovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker as seriously as The Observer. Even Spouse, who can usually get revved up about anything The Observer is just so we won’t pout, met our breathless tale of a feathery Bigfoot in East Arkansas with: “We’re talking about a WOODPECKER, right? Like Woody Woodpecker?”
Don’t get us wrong, The Observer is not a “birder.” In fact, we’ve never been this excited about a bird that wasn’t stuffed with cornbread dressing and served with cranberry sauce. Given that, on the way back from the press conference, driving through the twisting farm roads and finally up the long interstate to Little Rock, we started to wonder what everybody else had undoubtedly been trying to figure out over the past few days: Why did The Observer give such a damn?
Here’s the long answer: The Observer is probably the most liberal person we know. Under our thorny political hide beats the heart of one of the last American optimists.
The Observer believes in all that stuff: That all you need is love. That money can’t buy happiness. That war is out of date. We believe that people are looking for a hand up, not a hand out, and that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. We worry about the world we’re passing on to our kids, and have this sneaking suspicion that clean water might someday be more precious than sweet crude. We would eat organic foods if we weren’t so broke and/or afraid of biting into an apple and coming out with a worm. We believe wholeheartedly in global warming, no matter what Paul Harvey says is the rest of the story. The Observer is, in short, a tree-hugger.
Here’s the short answer: The rediscovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, there in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, one of those tax-eating mosquito farms set aside by granola-eating nuts like us, gives us hope that what we believe is still the right thing to believe.
An idea: The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, National Bird of the Blue States of America.
May 5 is the 12th anniversary of the murders of three West Memphis boys. Pamela Metcalf of Moro, the mother of Damien Echols, one of the three young men convicted of the slayings, sent this poem to Mara Leveritt, the Times senior editor, about the night Echols and two others were arrested. Echols is contesting the conviction. The poem is unedited.
It was the third of June, a night on the town, how was I to know what was to go down./Three young lives lost, the town was all fear, Lets get the killer! was all you could hear./An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, now all things done, they’ve taken more youth./Three young men, now to stand trial, The town was ablaze, Led in denial./My son is innocent, Jessie and Jason, too, cant someone tell me, what should I do?/Now my young son, sits on Death Row, The Truth must come out, is all that I know./Our lives are all torn, broken and shattered, never to be the same, but to whom did it matter?/Three young boys died, It was all in vain, The killer still loose, still so inhumane./Three in the pen, three in the ground, The whole things been wrong, all the way around.
For my son, Damien, Jessie and Jason. Also for the three young boys who at such a tender age lost their lives, May 5, 1993.