Last year I participated in the 2015 ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest, and I was thrilled when they recently announced that I finished 2nd overall in the 14-18 age group, placing 1st in both the field notebook and writing modules. It has been requested that I share a bit of my work, so in this post I have copied one of the essays I submitted for the writing module. I am far from considered an "expert author", but I greatly enjoy writing!
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If I Saw an Ivory-bill...
I admit, I have an imagination. Often I'll be struggling over a dreaded algebra problem one second, then the next I'll find myself imagining that I'm walking the beaches of Cape May. My imagination takes me everywhere, so why not let it take me to the swampy Louisiana bayous in search of the presumably lost Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Naturalist, writer, artist, and birder Julie Zickefoose has a chapter about Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in her book The Bluebird Effect. In truth, she inspired me to write this fantasy, for in her Ivory-bill chapter, she has her own version. Hers is the 1999 piece; mine is the 2014 piece. Her piece is her imagination; my piece is my imagination.
I glanced at the Ivory-billed Woodpecker painting hanging on my bedroom wall. I could almost hear the wing beats of the bird flying through the woods. I could almost feel the weight of the humidity suspended in the air. I could almost smell the stench of the muck and mire from the swamp. For the first time, a desire to search for them, or, at least stand where the Ivory-bill once traveled the bayou, stirred within me. Although I knew there was virtually no chance that I would see my target bird, I decided to traverse the Louisiana bayous anyway.
Moss drooped from the steadfast cypresses like morning dew on weak grass. Puddles of turbid water engulfed the area and shimmered under the rays of sunlight peeking through the trees. I trudged over the mud, eyes to ground as to not take a false step. The bayou was mostly silent aside from the symphony of Spring Peepers, the occasional warbler of a Red-eyed Vireo, and the sound of the wet ground squishing under the weight of my rubber boots. It felt horribly humid here, and I longed to turn back, but no. I couldn't. I had hardly even explored the swampland.
So I continued, taking in every detail from the world around me. Two Snowy Egrets catapulted into flight at my approach, and little spiders sped away on the water as my shadow passed. As spooky as the bayou seemed with its uncanny silence, I had to confess, it captivated my interest. There was such a diversity of life here, and this diversity was beautiful - from the quiescent fungi dotting the moist terrain to the songbirds foraging in the canopy. All of nature seemed at peace here, and to think that a bird threatened to extinction was unable to experience this security distressed me.
The near-silence was broken by the crash of a branch hitting the ground. I looked at the branch, then above where a squirrel leaped to the tree's trunk. Suddenly, a large bird flying through the woods caught my eye. Its wings beats were powerful, and its wings themselves were black and edged in snowy white. My heart stopped. No - it was just a crow, and white from the sunlight was shining on its wings. But what on earth would a crow be doing here? At once, I hurried to where I had last seen the mystery bird disappear behind the broad trunk of a dislodged cypress. I slowed as I neared the tree, but even as I circled it, nothing moved. With my left hand supporting me, I leaned against the tree's grooved bark. What next? The sun was already falling from its zenith, making the bayou seem even darker than when I first got here. I could go back, or...
A flash of black and white in the distance put me at a sprint in half-a-second. This bird was definitely not a crow. Actually, it wasn't anything I had seen before. I tripped over roots, splashed through puddles, swatted at broken limbs blocking my path. Suddenly, the dry land discontinued and was replaced by deep bayou waters. I could go no further, however, I didn't have to. Nearly one hundred yards ahead, cleaning upright against a tree was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker - the bird that had been tossed aside, believed to be long since gone. Even at this distance I could see her clearly. She was beautiful, clothed in layers of glossy black feathers. Lines of white, shaped like slithering snakes, curved down either side of her neck and ended in broad white patches at her wing tips. A black crest crowned her head, which was held high in a princess-like manner. Her bill was a dagger bleached to nearly white. But it was her eyes that drew my attention. They were the color of lightning bolts, surveying the woods and not letting anything escape notice. A look of royalty and wisdom painted them, yet these were ephemeral as she turned and caught sight of me. Although I remained un-moving, my presence alone was enough to send her fleeing to the heart of the bayou.
I could continue my imagining, but it would likely go on forever. So now, I look back at the painting on my wall, and I feel almost as if I can say I have heard the wing beats of the bird flying through the air. I have felt the weight of the humidity suspended in the air. I have smelled the stench of the muck and mire from the swamp.