The Video Rental Store/Passenger Pigeon Connection

It’s just a passing simile, but reviewer Joe Hill compares video rental stores, ubiquitous just a decade or two ago, with passenger pigeon flocks in his review of the book Universal Harvester, a mystery of sorts by lead Mountain Goat John Darnielle.

Was the disappearance of video rental stores from the American landscape a sudden, overnight event, or were there clues that their demise was coming? That question played out on a smaller scale in the first episode of Starlee Kine’s first episode of the Mystery Show podcast, which itself now appears to be as extinct as the passenger pigeon. What is not extinct, however, is the video rental store. In fact, the largest video rental store is thriving, with 759 stores in the Midwestern U.S. and in Canada.

Paid Paleontology Internship at a Miocene Mammal Mecca

Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in Nebraska has paid internships available. Ashfall preserves the articulated skeletons of 12-million year old rhinoceros, horses, camels, and deer who died after a volcanic eruption.

Several summer internships are available for field studies in vertebrate paleontology. With preference to geology or biology students, the positions are open to all students with a genuine interest in, and knowledge of vertebrate paleontology, especially those aspiring to further their experience outside of the classroom. Duties include excavation, sorting of micro-vertebrate fossils, prep lab tasks, interpretive duties and other park support tasks.

36-38 hour workweek. $11.50 per hour.

* Three internships will be offered for May 24 to August 10.
* Two internships will be offered for June 20 to September 15.
* One internship will be offered for September 3 to October 20.

Deadline: Applications will be accepted until all positions have been filled, but no later than April 1st. Therefore, advantage to early applicants. Contact the Superintendent at Ashfall for more information.

Restored Wetlands and a Hotel in Iowa

I enter my Iowa City hotel room and open the curtains to check out the view and there’s a flash of green in front of my eyes. It’s an actual, I-kid-you-not hummingbird flying outside my window.

This is not your typical chain hotel just off the highway. This is the Coralville Marriott Hotel, not far from downtown Iowa City, and even closer to the Interstate 80 exit ramp.

With the help of brownfields remediation grants (thank you, Environmental Protection Agency), the town of Coralville has cleaned up and redeveloped several acres of former wasteland. The Marriott Hotel is part of that redevelopment, and outside my window, I can see another component: the Iowa River Landing Wetlands Park. This charming park covers about 12 acres and includes ponds, an elevated walking trail, and wetlands plants.

Iowa River Landing
Iowa River Landing Wetland Park

From the lobby, you walk right out the back door to a large plaza, past a raised bed garden where vegetables are grown for the hotel restaurant, and onto the nature trail. Follow the path through the park (or just walk out the front door of the hotel) and it brings you back to the rest of the redevelopment project: several restaurants, an antique car museum, and a historical society.

Observation Tower
Iowa River Landing Wetlands Park and Observation Tower

There’s one more little gem inside the Marriott. Iowa City is the home of the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Off the hotel lobby is the Iowa Writers Library, a bright room lined with bookshelves full of books by faculty and graduates of the Writers’ Workshop. There’s a fireplace, some comfortable chairs, and even a rolling ladder you can use to reach the books on the top shelves.

Iowa Writers Library
Iowa Writers Library, Coralville Marriot Iowa City

Wondering why it’s called Coralville? About 380 million years ago, during the Devonian Period,  Iowa City and the surrounding area were under the sea. Extensive coral reefs formed in the water, and then became fossilized. Remnants of these reefs can be found throughout the area.

Corals of Coralville
Corals of Coralville

 

Prehistory of the “Feathered Tempest”

Beloit College has posted the video of zooarchaeologist Steven Kuehn’s talk on the prehistoric occurrence of the passenger pigeon in the Midwest.

Kuehn briefly surveys passenger pigeon bones at archaeological sites in the Southeast and Northeast (with a mention of both the Lamoka Lake and Cole Gravel Pit sites), but focuses on the area he knows best, Illinois and Wisconsin.

While I disagree with his assertion that Ectopistes bones are, in general, rare in prehistoric archaeological sites, Kuehn makes some interesting points about possible changes through time in the abundance of passenger pigeon and also shows how, at least in later prehistory, passenger pigeons may have had greater symbolic importance.

Kuehn also talks about his own work at the Late Woodland Fish Lake site in Illinois (not far from Cahokia Mounds), where a single feature contained 28 passenger pigeon bones, almost all from the distal wing. Watch the video to see his interpretation of this find.