To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 3: You Talking to Me?

So I've been reading about animal behavior. And I've been watching animals. And I've been listening to them. And I've been thinking about atypical things.

As you may recall, Charlie called my attention to the atypical some weeks ago, asking me why things out-of-the-ordinary happen. He was asking, of course, so that I would ask, so that I would notice the unusual and wonder about it and look for an answer. I'm pretty sure that's what he was doing, anyway, because that's what's happened as a result of his question, and he's usually pretty good at that sort of thing.

In a way, the question reminds me of something they told us in First Responder class (which is like First Aid, but expanded)--to pay attention to the normal, to be familiar with our own bodies. One of our instructors told the story of a colleague who had been very surprised to find a bump on a patient's ankle, having never noticed before that everybody with ankles has ankle bumps. The same instructor reminded us to ask "is that normal for you?" because what's odd for us might be normal for a patient, and if it's normal, it probably isn't a medical emergency.

The corollary of all of that is that the abnormal should trigger questions.

I told Charlie that atypical things happen because other atypical things happen. I meant that as a general principle, that when something unusual happens, it should be taken as a sign of some prior, but equally unusual cause. Like, a whole bunch of birds mobbing a tree when they usually don't means that something unusual is in the tree, like an owl. I don't think the principle always holds, though. My sense of the usual might be faulty, for example, as was that of the man who did know about ankle bumps. But the unusual is still a good sign that something is happening I don't know about and maybe should.

I'm being really vague, I know. I do have some examples.

The birds mobbing an owl was an example. That was on campus, in one of the elm trees at the corner of the Mansion. Usually it's a cat they're mobbing, but that time it was a barred owl.

A hummingbird I'd seen in the bird-food garden every twenty minutes one rainy Sunday stopped coming just before dinner. It was nowhere near dusk--that was back in June. Later I found her, dead, in the pool of the little waterfall-fountain there. I showed the body to Joy, who said the thought the bird had been stung by a wasp hiding from the rain among the flowers.

I was out in my spot one evening, listening to the crickets from my hammock, and all of a sudden they all stop. Fifteen seconds later, they start again. I never did find out why.

What I've been wondering lately is whether I, myself, am an atypical occurrence. When I'm at my spot in the woods, am I seeing that place as it really normally is, or only as I have made it by arriving? When I hear a squirrel chatter aggressively, as they sometimes do, is the squirrel talking to--or about--me, or is it chattering about some new thing, person or animal or event, that is about to arrive?

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