ARDOR Literary Magazine

ARDOR Literary Magazine - Issue One, Jan. 2013

Issue One, Published January 2013

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Page 57 of 73

END DAYS Nonfiction by HEATHER PRICE-WRIGHT I. Someone, it turned out, had shot the bats. One felt for the bats, of course, their small lives ended with a pellet to the furry breast, falling, undignified, from the underside of the bridge into the sandy riverbed, wings awkwardly stuck half-open in shock, mouths gaping. Their little corpses piled up under the bridge, in the thick reddish dirt, hundreds of them, like a battlefield. One wondered who would do such a thing, to whom it seemed entertaining or instructive or important to litter the riverbed with the bats' bodies. Did they like the sound it made, the sensation of squeezing the trigger and watching something alive fall? Was it target practice? A hatred of bats, in particular? The simple and stultifying boredom of urban youth? The bats, found dead in early January, 2011, in the dry bed of the Rillito River in Tucson, Arizona, were at first presumed to have been part of a strange string of mass deaths among flocks and schools of different sorts across the country. In the Midwest, thousands of red-winged blackbirds died, seemingly in midair, and plummeted to the ground in droves, the crimson streaks on the undersides of their wings like blood shot through obsidian, like fire through black ash. In Arkansas, schools of silver fish washed up on riverbanks stretching 20 miles, scaling them so the earth itself became an enormous fish, eerily still and beginning to smell of death. The bats seemed to have met the same inexplicable end, until the entrance wounds were discovered, puckered, matted, stained, through their small midsections. II. The mockingbird is so called for its ability to mimic, to near perfection, the calls of other birds. While the mockingbird's ersatz songs often don't fool other species of birds, humans, with their evolutionarily stunted hearing, usually can't tell the difference. Birders all over the world have found themselves fooled into believing they were pursuing the call of some exotic find when really, it's just the mockingbird pulling their leg. While scores of bird species have been lost to extinction, the passenger pigeon occupies a special space in the annals of species loss. For one thing, the depletion of this bird, and the speed with which it vanished, was staggering -- it was one of the most abundant species in the world through the nineteenth century, with a worldwide flock peaking, some scientists believe, at five million birds. By the early twentieth century, due to the popular American cocktail of over-hunting and loss of habitat, the last passenger pigeon was extinct. It's tempting to manufacture statistics to demonstrate the enormity of the loss -- half the city of Los Angeles, dead; twice Chicago's population wiped off the face of the Earth, never to be replenished or replaced. But that only serves as a reminder of how species-centric humans are, how desperately we want to put the rest of the universe in our terms, in our math; plus,

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