Saturday, September 25, 2010


Well aside from working on the garage with Tara last night (and hopefully she'll post about that, since she has some very nice pictures on her camera of the progress we made, hint hint), I've been continuing to chip away at the musty old book contingent here at the Best Little Hoardhouse in Massachusetts. I've gotten all the books save a single antique several-volume set of The History of Rome out of the piano room, and Tara even took the bookcase that was behind the piano (with Mom's permission) over to her house to use in her library. I'm itching to fix up that Steinway now, since there is now room to play the thing.

That was the last load. This week I took all the ones from the last remaining bookcase in the stairs/hallway to the attic (which tiny space has three built-in bookcases!), and then I started on the living room ones.

The first things to go were a very musty set of Encyclopædia Brittanicas from 1939. Now, I had held onto these things myself as the entries on mythology were actually quite comprehensive, and mythology (Classical at least) is one of those subjects that was fairly well established in even the nineteenth century. The interpretations may have changed, but we don't really know any more of the facts about it (unless new texts have turned up, which usually they haven't). Which isn't to say they weren't otherwise very outdated. Adolf Hitler had a long article in there, but mostly it just said that he is (present tense) the leader of Germany and We Have A Very Bad Feeling About Him. So, no, not very useful.

They were in a cabinet, which I opened while I was considering whether I should toss them too. As soon as I opened the door I started sneezing. That would be a yes. They went.

Other books to go were the interminably old and outdated Life Science Library, one of those Time-Life series that you used to be able to buy in the mail one at a time. This one, which was a few years older than I am (I was just about alive for both the moon landing and Woodstock) had such wonderful titles as Giant Molecules, The Mind, Health and Disease, Machines, and, the one I find particularly annoying as a feminist, Man and Space. That last one is by one Arthur C. Clarke, which, while it gave me a moment's pause, was not, after all, enough to save it from the dump.

Another series that went was the Life Nature Library. The pictures are mostly black and white, the writing is dated, and I can easily find better information and pictures online. Nowadays if I need a photo of a cheetah I can find a hundred in less than a minute. It is not, in fact, entirely unlikely that I won't find live streaming video of some adorable cheetah cubs frisking in a zoo somewhere. Even better.

There is one passage in that series, though, which I would like to remember. It's in the Africa volume, and the poetry of it surprised me very much when I came across it some years ago. I will write it down here, as a way of remembering it, much like taking a picture of something while getting rid of the thing itself, a very useful strategy for de-cluttering if one is worried one might miss the original thing.

The book is from 1964 and is by Archie Carr (who according to Wikipedia was most well known for his work on saving sea turtles). It is about that famous bird from Madagascar, the long-extinct dodo. He wrote:

The dodo was first seen by Europeans when the island was discovered in 1507. One hundred and seventy-four years later the last dodo died.... Because dodos were big, easily caught and fair eating, they attracted ships that were running short of victuals, which ships in those days always seemed to be doing....

Anyway, all that remains of the dodo is a lot of bones and a pitiful scrabble of other relics, which Greenway inventories thus:

"A great store of bones has been found in a marsh, the Mare-aux-Songes, in Mauritius, and these are in the British Museum, Paris, Leyden, Brussels, Darmstadt, Berlin, and New York. A head and foot are preserved in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University.... The British Museum possesses a foot, and there is a head in Copenhagen, and a small fragment in Prague." A small fragment in Prague. That really sounds pathetically extinct, doesn't it.

Zoographically speaking, the man-made losses in Madagascar and her neighbors represent one of the greatest, per acre, the world has known. To me, the devastation of these amazing islands would not seem quite so bad if we had only kept the dodo. The ruin of the dodo stands as a symbol of mindless destruction....[N]o extinction by human hands can match that of this gross, inept bird. The passenger pigeon was, after all, a pigeon, and the world is full of pigeons. The extinct Carolina parakeet has kin left in the world, and the ivory-billed woodpecker, in slightly different guise, still chops at Central American trees. But nowhere is there anything remotely like the dodo. It was a fantastically vulnerable species....

A craving for the impossible gratification of seeing, touching, or hefting the sheltered, innocent bulk of a dodo comes over me strongly in my more whimsied moments. I suspect it must come over every man with any time to think. I believe our descendants will have more time of that kind. I know they will have a lot more dodos than we have, to yearn to have been allowed to see.

Archie Carr died in 1987, and so did not live to see that we were wrong about the ivory-billed woodpecker.

And now I can put that book in the car with the rest of them.

1 comment:

Catanea said...

I weep, like Douglas Adams and Charles Dodgson, for the Dodo.
But the Great Auk is even sadder: they walked onto the ships of their murderers.
We are horrible.