"....The truth is out there."
-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Sunday, November 14, 2010
-- Thank You, Stephen Lyn Bales --
With Christmas around the corner I'll throw out another plug for Stephen Lyn Bales' recent book, "Ghost Birds," on the work of James Tanner at the Singer Tract (and beyond). This is a volume that any naturalist, birder, and certainly Ivory-bill enthusiast, on your list will likely relish. There has never been such a full and detailed treatment of James Tanner's IBWO research.
Almost everyone agrees (even those who discount some of his conclusions) that James Tanner's 3-year study of Ivory-bills in the 1930s, is one of the finest pieces of natural history study in ornithology. Bales' book is a natural history... of Tanner's natural history, and much of it enthralls.
The first third-or-so of the book is on the original 1930's Arthur Allen-led Cornell expedition to the Singer Tract in search of Ivory-bills (that Tanner was part of), and the remainder (and best part) of the volume covers Tanner's own classic 3-year study that followed thereafter, as he traveled the south in a Model A Ford, in search of his ghostly subject.
Some readers may find parts of the book to read like a tiresome travelogue, but for anyone entrenched in the Ivory-bill saga, many parts are stirring, almost sending chills up the spine, as one immediately imagines being there and experiencing the sights and scenes of the dank swamp and bottomlands. There is lots of new information, and entertaining anecdotes, as Bales basically recounts his story by meticulously digging through Tanner's daily journals and notes. The fleshing out of J.J. Kuhn, Mason Spencer, and other IBWO-related figures and southern ways, is fascinating at times.
Chapter 20 (and part of 21) is a lovely sidebar on the courting of Jim Tanner and his wife-to-be Nancy (who later joined him in treks to the Singer Tract to see Ivory-bills). We also have Nancy to thank for encouraging Stephen Bales to compile and write this wonderful history, that we are all richer now for having. (James, BTW, died in 1991; his widow Nancy is in her nineties and still active --- I'll link once again to this older post of a Nancy Tanner visit to Julie Zickefoose's home: http://tinyurl.com/25laktm.)
I also, especially like that Bales includes an Appendix listing Tanner's travel itinerary for his entire 3-year study (1937-9), including how long he stayed in each search area. As I've noted here in the past, other than the Singer Tract, there were very few areas that Tanner ever stayed in more than 1- 4 days at a stretch (although he often made multiple visits), and it is difficult to fathom how even someone as skilled and knowledgeable as Tanner, with modest equipment and techniques, could have adequately surveyed many of these areas in such brief sojourns. (Many question whether the weeks/months spent by modern search-teams were sufficient to adequately cover areas of the just-ended 5-year search.)
Anyway, we all know the end of the story, with Tanner's and Audubon Society's inability to save the habitat where they suspected remnant IBWOs might hang on, as America headed into war and a war economy. No matter how many times I read it, the poignancy never lessens. So many times, and in so many ways, we failed this bird... and of course many, many others.
Bales' writing throughout is both matter-of-fact and touching, with a clear and appropriate reverence for James Tanner the individual, and his life-work. I highly recommend the volume for the growing library of Ivory-bill must-have reading.
I've not actually seen this volume yet in any bookstore, but it is readily available online (it is from a university press, and I'm not sure how widely it is being distributed).
Bales' blog for the book is here: http://ivorybillwoodpecker.blogspot.com/
[It occurs to me, as an aside, that perhaps I should note that Bales' book has no connection to the similarly-titled Scott Crocker independent film, "Ghost Bird," which has been making the rounds now for awhile, except that both deal with Ivory-bills.]
...reminds me of the videos that keep popping up on YouTube from folks saying they've filmed an Ivory-bill, and in each case only a glance is required to see it's a PIWO :-((
Thanks. Thanks a lot. I worked on the book for four years, and since I have a day job, that was four years of nights, weekends, vacation days and holidays. I actually wrote the prologue sick in bed with the flu last fall. I hope it doesn't show.
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