I sat there in silence, the words of Martha echoing in my mind, thinking on the significance of all that I had just read. I struggled to take it all in, to cope with the magnitude of the brutal reality of it all. I’d just finished reading A Message from Martha by Mark Avery and I was taken aback by it.
There are many words I could use to describe this book, and many I could also use to describe the experience I had reading it. It is an enlightening book that I found depressing and upsetting to read. It made me feel deeply uncomfortable, but also very angry. I’m not sure if these were the emotions Mark Avery was aiming for when he wrote it, but these were what I took most from the text. It’s hard to take many positives from the book, but that does not make it a tale of doom and gloom, somehow this feels slightly different. I put it down to his writing style; engaging, witty and conversational. Ultimately, I was glad to have read this book, I felt it was something I had to know. To at least know of our loss is better than knowing nothing; I’ll never get to see a Passenger pigeon but at least I know it existed.
For those of you who don’t know what this book is about, it is the account of the extinction of the Passenger pigeon. This bird was the most numerous bird in the world (estimated at three billion birds) and we removed it from this planet in less than 100 years in the 1800’s. In doing so we lost a natural wonder, a spectacle as magnificent as any we have today, and we’ll never get it back.
One of the key themes of the book is the seemingly inverse relationship between the expansion of humans across North America and the extirpation and extinction of natures riches. As the frontier moved steadily forwards, from east to west, wildlife was pushed out. What makes the tale even more distressing is humans are included in this, the Native Americans also falling victim to our brutal purging of the land. Avery refers to this as ‘Progress’, an accurate and current term in our capitalist society, where every 1% of economic growth is heralded as a success.
All this ‘Progress’ came at a cost, we lost beauty from the world and brutalised our fellow man. The skies were cleared and our hearts were blackened.
The book closes with an all too realistic and emotional imagined message from Martha, the last Passenger pigeon to live on this planet. The power of her message, brought to life by Mark Avery’s passionate prose, has compelled me to compose a response:
I’m sorry. I’m sorry that your species is gone from this world. I’m sorry that members of my species were greedy, short sighted, naive and reckless. We do not deserve your forgiveness, what we did was unforgivable. I wish I could say to you that we have learnt the lessons from your loss, that your loss meant something. Unfortunately the opposite it true, just like the human tidal wave purged America of your kind, and many of your relatives, so we continue now to sanitise the globe. Turtle doves, elephants, rhinos, pangolins; the list is endless, we’ve lost so much and are losing more each day. Yet maybe there is hope, for many of us do care, and we’re giving our lives to try to help wildlife. We’re all trying our best and we are making a difference. It may only be small, but in the world we live in now, we have to cheer every small victory and never give up. I care Martha, and I won’t ever stop caring, I’ll do my best for the remaining years I have on this planet to try and leave the places I work in better for wildlife. I’ll try to inspire in others a love of wildlife and I’ll never forget your tale. You’re a lesson to us all, and perhaps, in that sense, your loss will not have been in vain. I’ll try to not let it be so.