Convenience and proximity to home seemed good enough reasons for me to try to figure out who Rosalie Edge was, and how she became conservation’s greatest unknown heroine. Close to where I lived I whiled away hours at the Denver Public Library, reading Edge’s broadsides against the National Association of Audubon Societies’ treacheries against birds, when I was not writing freelance articles, or carpooling kids around Colorado to gymnastics meets, ballet classes, Hebrew school and piano lessons. With Edge’s personal letters in my possession and no deadline for their return, I leisurely retrieved a few from my bank safe deposit box whenever I felt inspired to transcribe their faded Spenserian script onto my computer. From home I rang up aged people to ask them for their Edge recollections. But as days shortened in the fall of 1990, instinct told me I must fly to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in remote northeastern Pennsylvania to witness the grand annual raptor migration Edge had wrenched from hunters 56 years before.
I had no friends or family in Pennsylvania I could borrow a car from or stay with. (A knack for charmingly sponging is as essential a trait for a writer as competence to write.) To defray costs I hustled an assignment--about that grand annual raptor migration at Hawk Mountain--from editors at the New York Times. They got an article. I got the chance to sit by day on dreamy North and South Lookouts and squint at spectacular streams of hawks and eagles, and sit by night in an empty office at Hawk Mountain’s Visitor Center where, still squinting, I poured over scores of Edge’s old letters. Peter had confided to me the existence of this cache, uncatalogued and virtually unread for 30 years, when I told him I was going to Hawk Mountain. He asked Sanctuary Curator Jim Brett to authorize a unique privilege: admittance to the Visitor Center’s basement. A dark, mouse-infested basement. I feared I was inhaling Hanta virus spores as I delicately combed through crumbling papers nestled in filing cabinets that had previously stood in Edge’s Emergency Conservation Committee’s New York office. I read Mrs. Edge’s coquettish exchanges with Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist J. Ding Darling; accounts of an American Ornithological Union members’ campaign to grant her full AOU rights, blocked by NAAS board members embittered against her; the slow trajectory of the painful demise of her friendship with Maurice Broun whom Edge hired as her hawk curator; the equally painful fatality of her friendship with mentor Willard Van Name. And more treachery: The eminent Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, composed of wealthy Philadelphia birders whom Edge believed supported her, secretly allied with NAAS to take over her hawk sanctuary. Alone in the Visitor Center I worked late each night. When I’d done enough I stumbled out to my car in pitch black. A great horned owl hooted its nosy question. Who?