Journal of Writing & Environment

From the essay collection “Brief Eulogies for Lost Species”


The emptiness gapes at us. Once there was a mystery barely glimpsed in a century and now there is a void that expands by the day. Time is a labyrinth with myriad secret passages and what we wouldn’t give to find the one that undoes the sins of our fathers. That being what it is, the staff on Round Island cherish the hope that the burrowing boa is not extinct, and it will be encountered one day.

In the event of rediscovery, the following steps are to be taken.


1. If dead:

a) Pay proper respects. Its ancestors have lived on Round Island since it first boiled out of the ocean off the north coast of Mauritius thousands of years ago.

b) Preserve in pure ethyl alcohol for the curious to see that somewhere in the world, a single specimen of the species, not seen since 22.08.1975 and representing a lineage that is 150 million years old, exists.

c) Notify the International Union for Conservation of Nature about the specimen, and that, contrary to our greatest fears, the species may not be extinct.

d) Ban all further travel to the island so that other burrowing boas, if they exist, can live in peace; whether it thrives will be a new mystery for the island.


2. If alive:

a) Rejoice that for now, the burrowing boa has avoided slipping into legend like the many other Mascarene species, including the dodo, giant tortoise, night-heron, rail, red rail, solitaire, gallinule, Hoopoe starling, gray parrot, owl, kestrel, blue pigeon, giant skink, day gecko, shelduck, and flightless ibis. Announce it to the wind, write a message in a cloud, commission a cantata for the prodigal serpent, so oblivious to its precarious fate.

b) Capture in a cloth bag. Lure with words from Emily Dickinson or Elizabeth Bishop. Boas are suckers for short, sinuous lines.

c) Take photographs of complete body, head, scale, and cloacal pattern. Make sure to get its best side.

d) Note time, place, weather, any other animals present near resight. Tune in to the boa’s zeitgeist.

e) Measure tail length, body length, weight and contemplate its essence, its Zen, its remarkable burrowing boa-ness.

f) Release animal and follow from a distance to observe behavior and movement. Note its stealthy silence, its rapid sidewinding and concertina motions. Once they are free, boas never look back.


In the event of non-rediscovery, notify the wailing women and the griots. Add a stone to the life cairn. The world we know is disappearing but try to cope as best you can.