Not awake but unable to sleep, I surf the internet looking for something. It is nighttime and everywhere the lights are out so that all I see is the violet screen before my face and my two apparitional hands, violet-blue, working the keyboard. Today’s top story on HuffPost is the recent discovery of a Lazarus taxon: a species long-believed extinct until a specimen washes up on some foreign shore or appears among the brambles of a backwoods community. There are pictures of the rediscovered bird, as strange in photographs as he is in the drawings James Audubon made of him in the nineteenth century. The ivory-billed woodpecker – zebra-striped and red-combed, his feathers and bill like wax. Since midcentury the woodpecker has been considered “definitely or probably extinct” by ornithologists, and I remember reading how the Cornell Lab had sent expeditions of birdwatchers and biologists to Arkansas and Florida to find evidence of its survival, photos, DNA, feces, anything, but they couldn’t. When an old crone called her local ABC station and said she’d seen an ivory-billed woodpecker in a Cyprus from the deck of her cabin on the Atchafalaya Bayou, of course she wasn’t believed. But then there were the pictures, a photographic trail at last, of the long-dead bird revived among the Spanish moss. I scroll down for more pictures. Even the grainy iPhone snaps, blown out as far as possible on my pixelated laptop screen are compelling. The bird in the photograph knows something: his own rareness, carries around an air of preciousness, a jewelikeness. Why did he reappear? I imagine him making some decision, preparing to show himself finally to the world like the hermit that came out of hiding after twenty years in the woods who had no knowledge of the godawfulness that had happened since 1995: the Oklahoma city bombing, Kosovo, 9/11, e-commerce, Justin Bieber. His appearance was a denial of history, his life hermetically sealed against a certain chronological unpleasantness, a neat time capsule. I want more pictures of this bird but the article ends.
Beneath it there are ads with stock photos. Better Sex After 50. Eat This One Superfruit to Melt Away Body Fat. The Secret that All Happy Families Know. 15 Photos Guaranteed to Make You Laugh Every Time. Best Stock Options for 2015. You Won’t Believe How this Dog Greets His Owner Returning from War. Celebrities are Just Like Us. Dreck from all over the internet, culled by a marketing service like a fish boat skimming the water for saleable chum. But of course I can’t help wondering what articles they link to, what really is the one secret that all happy families know. I am tantalized by the thought of some deeply buried paradise of trim bodies and connubial bliss. They don’t call it clickbait for nothing.
I scroll up again and scour the article for embedded links, hoping for more pictures of the woodpecker, but there aren’t any, and a Google search doesn’t turn up anything fresh. The only other thing I can find, on the Audubon Society of America’s Website, is a thumbnail of the old woman from the bayou with her binoculars around her neck. She is wearing a linen shirt wrinkled at the elbows and looks past the camera with a hand shading her eyes, as if straining to see the woodpecker himself out on a distant tree. She is crablipped and reticent, apparently not at all pleased to have altered the fossil record forever. But I am finally weary and ready to close my eyes. I shut down my laptop thinking how much my life is sustained by hopes for the resurrection of the buried, for improbable rediscoveries, for miracles.