Conspiracy theories fly after dead birds
If you live in Arkansas and you’re not a conspiracy theorist, then you’re simply not paying attention.
Things are happening in Arkansas that wouldn’t have happened in an episode of “The X-Files” because the writers would have considered it too improbable.
Since September 2010, the town of Guy, Ark., has been rocked by nearly 500 shallow, but very noticeable, earthquakes.
Professional geologists yawn at this because of the many fault lines in the area. In fact, Arkansas experienced an estimated 15,000 quakes in 1982 alone and a much smaller swarm in 2001. Tremors are to be expected where there are fault lines.
The Madrid Fault, the biggest regional fault line in Arkansas, has been quiet since 1811 when a 7.0 magnitude quake rearranged the furniture in what was then a sparsely populated U.S. territory. It is well overdue for another shake.
None of the recent flurry of quakes has surpassed 3.1 magnitude, though, so the average Arkansan’s false sense of security can continue indefinitely.
Some possible causes can be automatically discounted. Though there’s been a lot of natural gas drilling going on in Arkansas, industry experts insist that “fracking” didn’t cause the recent tremors.
Authorities are investigating whether another man-made activity, the proliferation of saltwater disposal wells underground, has inadvertently provided a trigger.
Still, none of this would have remotely interested “X-Files” agents Fox Mulder or Dana Scully if not for the thousands of birds that began falling out of the sky just before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The latest reports are that as many as 5,000 birds, mostly red-winged blackbirds but also other species, fell from the sky above Beebe, Ark.
High-altitude hail, lightning and severe wind gusts have been mentioned as possible culprits behind the massive bird die-off. A lack of singed wings and a suspicious absence of bad weather, however, make those theories a hard sell.
A consensus seems to be forming around the remarkable theory that the birds were freaked out by fireworks near their roosting area and suffered a collective heart attack because they were startled by the noise.
Who would have thought birds that have lived near humans for centuries would be so easily spooked by fireworks at New Year’s, but not on the Fourth of July? Still, experts from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission maintain bird trauma that ends in a mass die-off is possible. Who am I to argue?
So, on the first day of the year, men in Hazmat suits descended on Beebe to collect bird carcasses from front lawns, roads, rooftops, porches and sidewalks.
Anyone who has read Don DeLillo’s “White Noise” will immediately think of that novel’s “airborne toxic event,” but the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has already certified the air around Beebe as toxin-free.
On the same day the dead birds turned up in Beebe, 100,000 dead fish washed ashore 125 miles away in Logan County. Stretching a 20-mile length of shoreline along the Arkansas River, thousands of drum fish — also known as “croakers” — evoked images of a biblical plague set loose in the land. If a river runs red anywhere in Arkansas, we’ll officially be in the book of Exodus.
Chances are that an industrial pollutant that only affects the bottom-feeding drum fish is the culprit. No other fish have turned up dead. The die-off appears to be highly selective so far.
But there’s something fishy in Arkansas that transcends the dead fish that began appearing on the surface of the river as early as last Thursday.
Do humans bear any responsibility for these events? Blaming earthquakes on corporate greed or even fracking could be a stretch, but it isn’t likely that fish and bird die-offs are just examples of the animal world thinning its own ranks.
It could be that nature’s vulnerability and man’s folly are coming together in ways that will get the attention of even global warming denialists.
It snowed in Los Angeles on Monday. If that isn’t a sign of the times, I don’t know what is.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631.