I've decided to change the name of my recent painting, which I called "Spring in the Forest," to "Deep Enough for Ivorybills." The news announced this week that researchers from Cornell University have confirmed sightings of ivorybill woodpeckers, long thought to have been extinct, in the Big Woods of Arkansas has lightened my step more than anything in a long time. I'd known vaguely about ivorybills for years, but really became fascinated with them after reading a wonderful essay by a late friend, the Georgia writer Jim Kilgo, called "Deep Enough for Ivorybills.” I heard him read from the essay years ago, about his love of woods and swamps deep enough to afford the possibility of their harboring a remnant population of the birds, which had last been seen in the United States in 1944.
Jim looked for ivorybills in such places from time to time, from his childhood, and never got to see one. He died of cancer just a couple of years ago, and the first thing I thought of when I heard the report and my heart leapt up at the discovery was how happy he would have been to know these magnificent birds still live.
This painting, of course, is not of a cypress swamp in the lowcountry South where ivorybills lived, and evidently survive. It’s rainforest in the Pacific Northwest, but the trees with their feet in the water, the wet, rich fecundity of the habitat, and the feeling that it’s a place where wild things can still thrive, makes me think it’s “Deep Enough for Ivorybills.” So that’s the new name, in honor of the birds, but even more in honor of a dear friend who was not only a fine writer, but a wonderful man with whom I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time.
Jim’s essay is still in print, in a collection of his essays by the same name. It is available from University of Georgia Press.