Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fourth of July 2012 is the fifteenth day of summer; 79 days await your summer plans. Today is the day of the feral pigeon.

Every wonder what would happen if we eradicated all the invasive and non-native species in Muskegon County? Would we have any species left at all? America had a native species of pigeon, the Passenger Pigeon, and we wiped flocks of billions out by the second decade of the twentieth century. The pigeon I saw alight on a concrete wall of a bridge had the beautiful neck colors, green and purple, of the Rock Pigeon, which began to arrive in North America around 1660. Four creeks flow into Mona Lake on the east side near US-31, and only Cress Creek and Black Creek have the quality of free, natural creeks. The creek that flows into Mona Lake on the northern edge of Mona Lake Park has been reduced to a drainage ditch. Luckily, many of our local creeks have been restored by Jackson & Merkey, who just completed the clean up of Ryerson Creek. The highways trumped the creeks in the middle of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, we worked with bulldozers and steam shovels to bring them back.

I love the colors of the feral pigeon, which has a smudgy light gray body and neck colors that remind me of glazes for Tiffany lamps. Like feral cats that sneak away from their owners and go wild, our outdoor pigeons are feral too, descendants of escaped pets. I guess feral cats love to feed on feral pigeons, and even crows pick on the feral pigeons. The rise of feral pigeons, a species that will breed six times a year if there's food, has allowed peregrine falcons and red tail hawks to abide in urban canyons of downtown New York and Detroit. Even after the demise of the passenger pigeon, every day is a pigeon shoot for hungry predator species.

Pigeons are able to make up their numbers by breeding often as long as there's food. Pigeons are a feast for all the raptors.  Luckily, pigeons are feasted by everyone from children to grandfathers, except in most of Trafalgar Square, where the feeding of pigeons has been curtailed by law. I'll gladly make a trip to London to check on the state of the regulations; one source says pigeons can be fed at 7:30 AM only.

I currently am disappointed by the building where I work, an unremarkable two story office building in an industrial park. I once worked in a new office, with the interior decor of an advertising agency. In fact, advertising and marketing flowed out of that building on the wires of the internet. I worked on the twentieth floor, and each wall of windows had an incredible view. The south windows looked over the wide Elizabeth River and the dry docks of the U.S. Navy, operated by BAE Systems. The west windows looked into the urban canyon of Granby Street, where a new restaurant opened every week during the summer of 2007. The east windows looked over the oldest part of the city of Norfolk, Virginia, including into a church yard with marble burial vaults from the sixteenth century. Visiting that church yard, I inadvertently interrupted a woman on the marble top, about to give a man her body. She struck up a conversation with me as she dressed. The man just fumed.

The north windows looked over the land mass of Norfolk, Virginia, crossed and partitioned by the tidal estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay. On a set back to the east, a tarred rooftop had a puddle of water most days, and I counted the resident flock of thirty pigeons daily when I arrived in the morning. Around Muskegon, I count the flock of turkeys in the groves off Sherman boulevard. Both the flock of pigeons and the rafter of turkeys slowly lost members.

It's mortifying to recall the story, but it does honor the sense of humor of my father's father, my grandfather Edward Jacob. He could fix any machine from a car to a washing machine, and could fashion his own temporary parts out of a soft metal called babbitt. He left a soft lump, the size of a fist, upon his workbench in the southwest corner of his basement, near a small window. He also could feed a family from the field and stream, bringing home trout and venison for his table. I am an effete city slicker compared to him. I come from my fingers. My grandmother had a great talent for cooking and we sat down to the best meals of either baked chicken or breaded pork chops on Sunday afternoons. One day, I left the table, went to the restroom, and returned to the table. My grandfather declared, "You're a pigeon!" I was found dumb and asked why he called me a pigeon. "A pigeon takes a crap and goes back to eating!" I never left the table until I had left the table for good after that lesson.

My grandmother corrected his table language from her position at the head of the table, by the stove. Grandfather Edward Jacob always sat at the head of the table, before the western window, curtained with woven lace.

Feral Pigeon:
Passenger Pigeon:
Jackson-Merkey Contractors, Inc.

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