Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Orleans 4.7.92: Purple Martins and Balmy Sunsets

Last night, C.J. McNaspy wanted to go and see the purple martins roost at sunset under the causeway. I knew nothing of this, but apparently from Jan.-June and July, hundreds of thousands of purple martins settle at the west end of the causeway, in their journey from Canada to Latin America.

We got there before 7, because C.J. was under the mistaken impression that sunset was at 7, whereas 8 was more like it. Just as sun began to set, out of nowhere, seemingly, birds began to congregate. At first they were high, assiduous in their search for mosquitoes and other flying insects, something like the chorus beginning the play. They tended to gather, fly in swoops around each other, and move to this side or that of the causeway.

But gradually they gathered in such numbers that the sky was full of them, and began to circle, spin, lower, lower, till they were right above us. Then they entered their nests, and true night began to fall, as a sliver of moon rose higher and higher in the sky.

Aububon apparently remarked on this show as early as 1801, but it seems New Orleanians have not paid attention to it till recently. Maybe the birds haven’t appeared in such numbers for a time. A man named Carlyle Rogillo has “discovered” the birds and has made their preservation his grand cause, so that now a sign tells all about their lives—and migration cycles—and the city has put benches out for people to watch. There were some 30 out last night.

I wish I had felt more as I watched, other than fatigue and the damp heat. As with everything lately, nothing holds or satisfies.

But one interesting breakthrough in family research: I went to the city library yesterday and leafed through obituaries published in the Homer, Louisiana, daily paper, only to discover one for my great-great grandmother Mary Ann Harrison Lindsey. A Benjamin D. Harrison who is, I have always felt certain, her brother, founded the paper and it was he who published the obituary in it—though Mary Ann and her husband Mark J. Lindsey lived several parishes south in Natchitoches Psh. I know so little about this mysterious ancestor who died rather young (a fever, the obituary says), that it’s delightful to find some trace of her life now.

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