Thursday, September 25

Everything Changes

Every September for the last 14 years I have had children starting school or preschool. This year, to celebrate my freedom from the school schedule, I took a long-desired trip to Hawk Ridge in Duluth to see the Hawk migration. The conditions were perfect that day: it had rained for two days and was now sunny, so all the hawks that sat out the rain were ready to move on. It was warm enough to create thermals for soaring, the wind was from the west, and it was the peak of Broad-wing hawk migration season. We saw so many hawks! It was absolutely amazing, and if we hadn't been properly amazed, the howls of exuberance and joyous disbelief from the young staff spotters would have clued us in that this was an amazing day. In just one hour, more than 21,000 hawks flew over! (Compare to a total of 35,277 total observed so far this September --about 64% of the month's total flew over in that hour.)

Broad-wings fly high, so we would look through our binoculars to see little pepper specks, which eventually grew to be the size of grains of rice. They came across in "kettles," groups of hawks streaming across the sky, then stopping for a while in large circular whirls that looked like boiling water or, as Mom put it, "it looks like World War II up there!"

I talked to two of the staffers, explaining that this was my first visit to Hawk Ridge, and asking how this compared to a "normal" day. The first response was, "You can never come back! It will never be better than this, or anything like this!" The second response was, "Come back in October, when different hawks migrate. There are fewer, but they fly lower, so it's a different experience."

Mom and I talked about other extraordinary natural wonders we've seen. Both of us remember with awe a tree covered in migrating Monarch butterflies in Elmore, Minnesota. The tree seemed covered in living moving leaves. Absolutely amazing, and beyond my words to describe.

The other great experience of natural beauty, for both of us though on different occasions, was seeing the Northern Lights in particular glory. I still remember that I experienced this great wonder on August 3, 1972. I was a camp counselor, and we woke the kids up to see the lights. My cabin and I dragged our sleeping bags outside and stayed up for hours watching, long after the rest of the camp had gone to bed. As with the Monarchs and the hawks, they were beautiful, but it wasn't so much that they were green and blue and pink moving sheets of color. It was their abundance, their glory, and the fact that we were mere witnesses to an awe-inspiring phenomenon not arranged for our pleasure. These were spiritual experiences.

Mom and I drove home, dazed with pleasure, to the news that the stock market was collapsing.

Everything changes, nothing stays. My lovely children growing up, not needing my daily presence in September. My new geographical freedom, the fleeting incredible glory of the day on Hawk Ridge, the apparently fleeting glory of Wall Street. The ramifications of some of these changes will play out over years and decades, in ways we can't imagine now.

May you live in interesting times!

Book Picks:

The black swan : the impact of the highly improbable (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

Taleb is concerned with black swans, i.e., unpredictable and improbable events that have great impact. Among the examples of these he cites are the rapid spread of the Internet and the 9/11 attacks. People endeavor to explain black swans after they occur, but they cannot do so in advance. Despite the crucial effects of these events, economists and other supposed experts in prediction fail to allow for them; indeed, their theories often deny their possibility. Because of this failure, Taleb maintains that much business forecasting is useless. —David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
And his sarcasm is highly entertaining!

1491 : new revelations of the Americas before Columbus (Charles C. Mann)
The arrival of Europeans was the quintessential Black Swan event to the native Americans. Disease, probably carried by the pigs the Spanish brought with them, decimated the population. Some estimate that as much as 95% of the population was wiped out.
"Mann shows how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques have come to previously unheard-of conclusions about the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans: In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe. Certain cities -- such as Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital -- were greater in population than any European city. Tenochtitlan, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets. The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids. Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively "landscaped" by human beings. Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process that the journal Science recently described as "man's first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering."--From publisher description.

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