Back in 2001, I left Jackson, Wyoming and a really sweet library job to get a Master’s in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana in Missoula. I’d read a lot of Terry Tempest Williams and written some sappy poetry, and I really wanted to be a Nature Writer and save the planet. Less than a year later, I ended up a defeated, depressed dropout with a student loan, working on an organic farm in Whitefish, Montana for a hundred bucks a month plus room and board. No way could I have envisioned that 15 years later I would be back in Jackson with my own freelance bookkeeping business, finishing the novel about the farm that I started so long ago.
Nor would I have thought that I’d dust off an essay I wrote for one of my grad school classes, with the initial intention of turning it into a blog post. We had to choose an extinct or endangered species and write a brief, creative nonfiction essay. I picked a tiny warbler from the coastal plains of the American South. Maybe I chose Bachman’s Warbler because I grew up in Georgia. Maybe I chose it because I wanted to go small. And not simply size-wise. Bachman’s isn’t famous. But I have never stopped thinking about this lost little bird. I did a massive amount of research while I was a writer in residence at Hypatia-in-the-Woods in Shelton, Washington – and I did my damnedest to craft an essay that I hope honors one fragile strand in the great web of life. And I am overjoyed that Zoomorphic is publishing “Last Known” in its fifth issue.
I’d really like to thank the field biologists and Bachman’s experts who took time out of their busy lives to respond to my emails and phone calls. Paul Hamel, Sidney Gauthreaux, Chuck Hunter, Robert Norton, Bob Ford, Kenneth Rosenberg, thank you all. Isabella Kirkland’s hauntingly gorgeous oil painting deserves contemplation. And mostly especially, a big thank you to Craig Watson of the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, who read my drafts, sent me his own personal copy of Paul Hamel’s book Bachman’s Warbler: A Species in Peril as well as a precious dvd film of the warbler, and provided invaluable feedback.
You can read “Last Known” here on the Zoomorphic website.
Painting of Vermivora bachmanii by Louis Agassiz Fuertes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons