Pilgrims of the Air

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Host: The 22nd Meeting of the Irish Environmental History Network together with the European Observatory for the New Human Condition and Notting Hill Editions
Location: Trinity Long Room Hub Trinity College Dublin
Speaker: John Wilson Foster

In this brilliant essay, John Wilson Foster investigates the hauntingly sad disappearance of the passenger pigeon and the complexities involved in tracing the exact point at which the beautiful bird became extinct. He tells us of a time of plenitude – salmon-crowded rivers, cod-packed seas – and flocks of passenger pigeons in such incredible multitudes they eclipsed the sun and the moon. He tells us of the shocking speed of extinction and the consequent disbelief that they had been there in such numbers and that they were no more.

Michael Longley CBE says of the book:

To early settlers the New World must have seemed like Eden in its plenitude – salmon-crowded rivers, cod-packed seas – and flocks of passenger pigeons in such incredible multitudes they eclipsed the sun and the moon. The pigeons which used to migrate in ribbon flocks of millions are now extinct. What caused this disastrous collapse? In his brilliant book John Wilson Foster tells us what happened. We view the pigeons through the lenses of folklore, religion and ancient natural history, and then more scientifically. ‘All science begins with marvelling,’ as Aristotle suggested, and every page of this book is lit by a sense of wonder. Foster combines the attentiveness of a field-naturalist, the observation and reason of a scientist, a scholar’s method and a poet’s imagination. Full of amazement and sorrow, Pilgrims of the Air is a book of utmost distinction by one of our finest public intellectuals.

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