Imagine you work at a railroad depot in a Midwestern town in 1870. It is a spring afternoon and the next train is due in an hour. When the low roar begins, you hurry outside and look eastward, squinting at the horizon point where the twin rails converge. No train. A long westward look, still no train. Back at the desk, you check the train schedule and your watch but discover no reason to expect a train. The roar builds, cresting as the northern sky fills with black specks. The specks blanket the sky, blackening out the sun. Rushing to the telegraph, you signal, “passenger pigeons coming,” and send it to towns southward. After three hours, the birds are gone, but the telegraph buzzes, relaying news of other towns’ passenger pigeon harvest. Townspeople use nets, shotguns, even poles, to take an abundance; the low-flying pigeons are the easiest of game. On this day of jubilation, the hunters’ kills are mere grains of sand taken from a broad beach. Inconceivably, in a few short decades, the last wild flock will vanish.
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