HISTORY

Gresham1982

  

[What follows was first written as part of my “Afterthoughts, in my 2012 book, “Nine Feet from Tip to Tip: the California Condor Through History.” With the growing ambivalence of the American public to history, science, and anything “scholarly,” I thought it was worth reprinting.]

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   History - bad, good, or neutral - is what happened. Personally, I'd like to change parts of it, but it can't be done. History is history. How it gets remembered is something else, again. History can be written from ignorance, arrogance, faulty research, sloppiness, to support a cause, to "prove a point," to earn a diploma, to make a living, to discredit other ideas: the list goes on. Even disregarding capability and motive, we can never get it entirely right. By the time history becomes interesting, most of those who actually lived it are long gone. By that time, all we can do is the best we can.

   I've devoted over 40 years to the study of the California condor. Obviously, in that time, I've developed a lot of opinions about the bird and the people involved with it. Those opinions have already been published ("Condor Tales:" Symbios, 2004). In the book you've just finished, I've tried to tell history just for the sake of telling history - to "get it right," in so far as it is possible to ferret out the whole truth about anything in the past. Some of what I found revises even what I wrote in "Condor Tales" as recently as 2004, illustrating that "getting it right" can be an ongoing process.

   I can remember a day back in the mid-1970s, as I was walking near the Sespe Condor Sanctuary with a young friend who had just hitch-hiked his way 3,500 miles from northern New Hampshire to southern California. He was on a personal vision-quest, and we talked about a lot of weighty things. At one point, he challenged me on my interest in historical research. What good is history, he asked? I don't remember how I responded. I probably used the line about those not knowing history being doomed to repeat it - which, by the way, I believe is one justification, even if as human beings we often seem incapable of not repeating past mistakes. My answer today would include that admonition, but it would be more visceral: history is fun; history is fascinating; and some of us seem to have an insatiable desire to "get it right." I could have finished writing this story two years ago, but I kept finding new sources of information, and kept questioning myself as to whether or not I really knew what I just wrote. I've had a lot of fun - and learned quite a bit more about condors than I knew after my ten years of field research. I hope you have, too.

Sandy Wilbur, Gresham Oregon - August 2012


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