“While kayaking in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge on Feb. 11, 2004, Gene Sparling of Hot Springs, Ark., saw an unusually large, red-crested woodpecker fly toward him and land on a nearby tree. He noticed several field marks suggesting the bird was an ivory-billed woodpecker.” (Science Daily)
The only problem with Sparling’s sighting is that the ivory-billed woodpecker was thought to be extinct. The last sighting was over sixty years ago.
A week later, after learning of the sighting, Tim Gallagher, editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird magazine, and Bobby Harrison, associate professor at Oakwood College, Huntsville, Ala., interviewed Sparling. They were so convinced by his report that they traveled to Arkansas and then with Sparling to the bayou where he had seen the bird.
On Feb. 27, as Sparling paddled ahead, a large black-and-white woodpecker flew across the bayou less than 70 feet in front of Gallagher and Harrison, who simultaneously cried out: “Ivory-bill!” Minutes later, after the bird had disappeared into the forest, Gallagher and Harrison sat down to sketch independently what each had seen. Their field sketches, included in the Sciencearticle, show the characteristic patterns of white and black on the wings of the woodpecker.
“When we finished our notes,” Gallagher said, “Bobby sat down on a log, put his face in his hands and began to sob, saying, ‘I saw an ivory-bill. I saw an ivory-bill.'” Gallagher said he was too choked with emotion to speak. “Just to think this bird made it into the 21st century gives me chills. It’s like a funeral shroud has been pulled back, giving us a glimpse of a living bird, rising Lazarus-like from the grave,” he said. (Science Daily)
I listened to an interview with Gene Sparling on NPR in the mid-nineties after it was discovered that the ivory-billed woodpecker was indeed not extinct. I was ecstatic that this rare bird had managed to survive, but I was intrigued by what he said in his interview. He shared that as a boy he used to look at drawings of the woodpecker and dream that one day he would find an ivory-billed woodpecker still alive in the swamps. That was his dream. He admitted that it was an impossible dream because the bird was extinct. Nonetheless, it was the dream he carried within his boyish imagination. So, he would go kayaking in the swamps with a flicker of a hope that he might spot the extinct bird. And, beyond any expectation, he did! The little boy’s dream came true! Gene Sparling was the first man to spot an ivory-billed woodpecker in 60 years!
It’s this story and stories like these that inspire me, and I hope they might light a fire within you on days when you feel tempted to despair. I see God’s very nature in this story. Gene Sparling had a dream. An impossible dream. He got in his kayak and searched. Is it possible that he might never have seen that woodpecker? Yes, but what did this man find in the search for it? What might we find in our search for the impossible? What might change in us in our journey to realize the impossible? Whatever your impossible dreams are, I believe that the Tale of The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker tells us that we are designed to try. Just because everyone tells you that it’s not possible doesn’t mean that you can’t. After all, if Gene Sparling’s boyhood dream of finding an extinct bird came true, then why can’t my dreams come true? Why can’t yours? Desire is the catalyst, and time and effort is the crucible.
Look what happened with Gene’s time and effort?
What might happen with yours? It really excites me to think about it.