Pilgrims of the Air – The Passing of the Passenger Pigeons
- Notting Hill Editions
- 2017 ISBN 9781907903656
- 230 pages
- 19 × 12 cm
This is a story of the rapid and brutal extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, once so abundant that they ‘blotted out the sky’, until the last bird died on 1st September 1914. It is also an evocative story of wild America.
‘When an individual is seen gliding through the woods, it passes like a thought, and on trying to see it again, the eye searches in vain; the bird is gone.’
This is a story of a scarcely credible abundance, of flocks of birds so vast they made the sky invisible. It is also a story, almost as difficult to credit, of a collapse into extinction so startling to the inhabitants of the New World as to provoke a mystery. In the fate of the North American passenger pigeon we can read much of the story of wild America – the astonishment that accompanied its discovery, the allure of its natural ‘productions’, the ruthless exploitation of its ‘commodities’ and the ultimate betrayal of its peculiar genius. And in the bird’s fate can be read, too, the essential vulnerability of species, the unpredictable passage of life itself.
John Wilson Foster was born and educated in Belfast. He won a scholarship to Queen’s University where he read social anthropology, zoology, English and philosophy. As a postgraduate he studied aesthetics under the philosopher W.B. Gallie and the poet and critic Philip Hobsbaum. He won a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Oregon where he completed a Ph.D. in Irish literature. From 1974 until 2002 he was Professor of English at the University of British Columbia of which he is now professor emeritus. In 2001 he was National University of Ireland Professor at NUI, Maynooth. After early retirement he was a Leverhulme visiting professor to the U.K., visiting professor at the University of Toronto, and visiting fellow at the National University of Ireland, Galway.