Woke up to the sun rising at about quarter to 6, so crawled out of bed, washed up, ate some breakfast, and then went for a hike along the trail that runs along the ridge top in search of the Passenger Pigeon monument. Along the way took a detour down the trail that lead to a cave. I was beginning to give up hope on finding the memorial, when I finally came upon it. It’s a large limestone wall, with a bronze plaque imbedded. The monument is built into an overlook of the Mississippi River confluence with the Wisconsin River. The plaque has a likeness of a passenger pigeon embossed on it along with the following words:
“Dedicated to the last Passenger Pigeon shot at Babcock, September 1899. This species became extinct through the avarience and thoughtlessness of man.”
The plaque also had the name “Wright 1946” imprinted on it. On a smaller sign located adjacent to the monument was printed the following:
“On May 11, 1947, at the dedication of the monument Aldo Leopold said, ‘The monument perched like a duckhawk on this cliff, will scan the high valley, watching through the days and years. But no pigeon will pass, for there are no pigeons, save only this flightless one, grave in bronze and rock.’” The sign also included the following quote from Leopold’s THE SAND COUNTY ALMANAC: “There will always be pigeons in books and museums, but these are but effigies and images, deal to all hardships and all delights. They know no urge for seasons; they feel no kiss of sun, nor lash of wind and weather.”
As I sat looking at the monument, a turkey vulture soared along the ridge tops, coming to a near standstill 100 feet to the West of me as it glided along the edge of the bluff. A male Baltimore oriole landed in the tree just to the south of the memorial and called out in a loud whistle, and then the female followed him and gave a much softer chirping sound of her own. To the east in the direction of the risen sun, an unknown bird landed on a branch in an oak tree in the grove located behind the linear Indian mound. And to the North in the oaks overlooking the mouth of the Wisconsin River and valleys beyond, warblers flitted amongst the blooming leaves in search of insects and a gray squirrel made his way around the trees as well. The honking calls of geese could be heard coming up from the river valley below. And from above the sound of the wind passing through the trees, merged with all the bird songs that filled the air. It was a reminder of the beauty of the natural world, and its power to continue to evolve and endure, despite the folly of man. We humans may not be as fortunate as the rest of the natural world, if we do not overcome our mindless ways.
Earlier as I walked towards the memorial site, I heard a kin of the missing passenger pigeon, the morning dove calling out “who, who, whoooo” in the distance. I could not help but wonder while I walked along the Indian mounds strung out along the ridge top to the South of the memorial if someday one of our surviving kin walks among our abandoned constructed remnants of our way of life, wondering who the people were that left them behind.
As I was getting ready to go, another passerby wanted to borrow my view to take some pictures. If I had known how popular the site was, I would have started charging.
I walked back to the campground and decided that rather than staying in the park another day, that I would bike on down and try to make it to NELSON CONFIRM NAME park. So I ate again, and packed up my gear and by about noon, I was almost on my way. I stopped to talk to a man carrying a branch back to his camp site where he had an assortment of other items laying out on his picnic table. He told me he was getting ready for a group of sixth grade students who were coming to spend the day and night at the park. He told me they were from Platteville, and I told him that is where I went to college. He said he had been helping coordinate these trips for over thirty years. I told him about the time I went with my daughter’s sixth grade class to a similar experience and how much I had enjoyed it. He said he enjoyed it too and working with the kids to get them interested in spending time outside. He regretted that because of the high river flows, he would not be able to get the kids out canoeing, but would try to make up for it with other activities.
Once I made it out of the park, the ride out was all downhill and a fun ride. Being off the main highway and now peddling down a county road was quite pleasant and the traffic volume and noise was almost non-existent. Coming off the bluff tops, the road returned to the River bottom next to the railroad tracks. It went through the quant looking community of Wyalusing that held some charming looking homes are cottages that overlooked the river. Further on I came across a rock building that had been built with the local limestone that sat nestled against a rock outcrop. It looked like the building had been abandoned. Across the street from it was a house build using the same materials that was also an eye catcher. Leaving town I wondered if living in the town would be as idealistic as it seemed.
Further along as the road meandered away from the river, I came across a series of older looking trailers and campers that were likely used as vacation properties. Then came the Yogi Bear resort with more campers packed into fields - it’s hard to believe that some folks would find that type of place relaxing, but then who am I to judge. Eventually, I knew the road would leave the river bottoms and head back to the ridge top, and when it did I had to grind up another long and fortunately winding road. The bends made it difficult to see how much further uphill I had to go, so with each new corner there was hope that the end was near.
When I did reach the ridge top, the land expanded into huge, rolling, farm fields that covered the land as far as you could see. It looked like it was most corn fields, but there were some contoured strip fields that contained a rotation of crops. Interspersed amongst the farm fields was a 10 to 20 acre cemetery about every couple of miles. The cemeteries seemed to just be plunked down in the middle of a corn field. At first it didn’t seem like too nice of a place to spend eternity, but for many of the pioneers and future settlers who lived in this place, the rich farm fields probably seemed like heaven. At one point I stopped to watch a dark horse how came trotting out to greet meet. She seemed glad to see a strange face. And before I knew it I was racing down another hill again, towards the River Bottoms below. The ride down almost made the climb up worthwhile, and I also was ready to leave the farm fields behind, but I worried that I might be climbing more hills to get to the campground – which of course I did as it was all up hill.