WHAT IT IS
In a dark secluded area of the Devils’ Backbone in the Mark Twain National Forest a small dark-eyed junco darted out into a bright, sun bathed open meadow, grabbed at some white millet, then hopped back into the forest. The student Ranger’s camera and tripod was set up a few feet from the millet, the motor drive was on high and the student hoped her twenty or more photographs would reveal what she had been chasing all summer long.
Some years ago, two summer students from the University of Missouri were hired by Bayer Crop Science to observe results during neonicotinoid saturation experiments on plots of land owned by the company. Among their duties, the students banded dozens of song birds that frequented the area and over time it was believed all the birds died of extreme exposure to the pesticides.
Pouring over the photos did not provide Jill, the student Ranger, with the image she was looking for until she saw the last photograph she had taken. A close-up of the bird’s leg clearly showed a Plot 82 band. In the coming weeks the Mark Twain National Forest would be crawling with scientists from many disciplines anxious to see how this junco may have survived.
WHAT IT IS NOT
Swain had his distal bicep tendon sliced in hand to hand combat, had his knee cap shot off the same day with a P-64 CZAK handgun and endured constant ringing in his ears after his sergeant stepped on a land mine, killing over half the company. He and his best buddy, Jack Sampson made it out of Vietnam together but on Swain’s second day back home in Missouri, he died when the hot air balloon he was in caught fire and all aboard perished.
Now, every year on that anniversary , Jack Samson along with his sisters, Norah and Mary, take the trip to Joplin Missouri to pay their respects at the spot where Swain was laid to rest. This year Jack and his sisters decided to walk the distance and it was most fortuitous for Mary because a pair of mating juncos, flying recklessly down a country road, slammed into her, got caught up in her long curly brown hair causing her to panic and then tumble down a steep embankment where she struck her head against a large chunk of granite. When she regained consciousness, her sight was miraculously restored.