Martha, the earth's last known Passenger Pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, during the beginning of the Great World War. I don't think she was willing to see another war. She had just finished her own war. One in which she had lost badly. The war on the natural world and her was one that was centuries old. It was a dirty war.
A single flock of Passenger Pigeons migrating could stretch one mile wide by three miles long and could contain two billion birds. They called the extensive forests of North America their home. They would establish colonies covering hundreds of miles in these forests. With hundreds of nests in a single tree, they communally took care of each others young.
Then came the white plague. In hopes of supplying themselves with an abundant source of agriculture fertilizer, and cheap meat for their slaves, servants, and the urban poor, whites begun the commercial hunting of Passenger Pigeons in the early 1800's. Boxcars filled to the brim on steel rail lines, became the pigeons new migratory passages. At the same time, hunters not only killed Passenger Pigeons in increasingly larger numbers, but settlers also deforested the dense forest canopies that they refused to live without. Unlike their closest surviving cousins, the Mourning Dove, they refused to domesticate to the ever expanding cities and farms. Refusing the way of their Mourning cousins they took their communal forest life head on with civilization, and ultimately like everything else to challenge civilization before, they were slaughtered.
Hunters would spend five months at a time, killing 50,000 birds a day, from a single nesting. They would get the birds drunk on alcohol soaked grains, while setting fires to the trees the pigeons called home. One technique stands out above the rest. An imprisoned pigeon would be fastened alive to a circular stool attached to the end of a long pole. Her eyes were then sewn shut with the finest silk thread to keep her disoriented. Blinded and Bound, at the end of the pole, she would be raised and lowered. Her frantic movement would attract other pigeons flying above, and they would make an inquiring decent, not knowing it would be their last. Hunters would then shoot and net the entrapped birds. The ones caught up in the net faced their death when a hunter would crush their heads between his forefinger and thumb. This was afterglow, just business.
After the last Passenger Pigeon died, from the culmination of acts perpetrated by whites, none of which where short of ecocide. Humans continue to triumph over “evil” in two bloody World Wars, all while further dominating the land in service to their own holy and righteous production. This of course, is not a story about one lonely bird named Martha. This is the story of great men. This is the accounts of our grandfathers, great grandfathers, and their fathers before. This is his story.
But there is another story being told. It's told in whispers. It's told from dance. It's a story a mother sings while nursing her young child. It's told by weeds, fighting to take back the grain fields that were once grand forests. It's a story of a people who learned to live communally from their old friends, the Passenger Pigeons. It's a story told from people who refuse to live apart from forests. They too, will eventually die from this ecocide called civilization. All that will be left, will be some distant cousins. Us, the mourning human. And we will walk, surrounded by towering concrete, pecking at food scraps, ever mourning. As generations pass, memories will weaken, but we will always mourn that something from out past. We just might not be able to name it.