Friday, September 24, 2010

Filing Cabinet: The Squid and the Geese

"It's the geese or us. I'm siding with the humans."

So wrote Andrea Peyser in a New York Post column that ran on August 30, a couple of weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture rounded up several hundred molting, flightless, nonmigratory Canada geese in Brooklyn's Prospect Park and gassed them to death, ostensibly because they posed a threat to airplane traffic.

Peyser's thinking seemed flawed to me, but I couldn't find the thoughts or words to say exactly why.

I was still struggling with this problem as I read the following paragraphs from Norman Doidge's The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, a book that describes a new wave of research into neuroplasticity. (The term sounds daunting, but the book is fascinating, hope-inspiring, and even exhilarating—popular science as page turner.)

As I finished reading about Burmese fishermen, I thought: "This is exactly what's bothering me about Peyser! She's only looking at the squid!" (In other words, the whole question of the geese demands a much broader perspective. As for staring myopically at squid, the same could be said for me, much of the time.)

Note: you won't have to care about geese—or squid—to find the passage intriguing.

The fact that cultures differ in perception is not proof that one perceptual act is as good as the next, or that "everything is relative" when it comes to perception. Clearly some contexts call for a more narrow angle of view, and some for a more wide-angle, holistic perception. The Sea Gypsies have survived using a combination of their experience of the sea and holistic perception. So attuned are they to the moods of the sea that when the tsunami of December 6, 2004, hit the Indian Ocean, killing hundreds of thousands, they all survived. They saw that the sea had begun to recede in a strange way, and this drawing back was followed by an unusually small wave; they saw dolphins begin to swim for deeper water, while the elephants started stampeding to higher ground, and they heard the cicadas fall silent. The Sea Gypsies began telling each other their ancient story about "The Wave That Eats People," saying it had come again. Long before modern science had put all this together, they had either fled the sea to the shore, seeking the highest ground, or gone into very deep waters, where they also survived. What they were able to do, as more modern people under the influence of analytical science were not, was to put all these unusual events together and see the whole, using an exceptionally wide-angle lens, exceptional even by Eastern standards. Indeed, Burmese boatmen were also at sea when these preternatural events were occurring, but they did not survive. A Sea Gypsy was asked how it was that the Burmese, who also knew the sea, all perished.
He replied, "They were looking at squid. They were not looking at anything. They saw nothing, they looked at nothing. They don't know how to look. "
(p. 303–4, The Brain That Changes Itself)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Who Goes There? (Prints in the Sand)

Early morning beach, September, Orient, New York. What did I do with that field guide to tracks, anyway? Any expertise welcome.


Uh, osprey?


Hmmm. Sharp claws, four toes?


Ya got me.

Mystery line.


Two by two? One after the other?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Here and There (Orient Beach State Park)

Pictures from an afternoon's outing.

Orient Beach Sate Park occupies a long spit of land that lies just west of the New London ferry landing. It's probably a two-mile drive (or walk or bike) into the parking area, then another two-plus miles to walk to the tip.

Shells in the trees. In other words, one of the great delights of beaches everywhere: environmental art.

The seagulls were having a fine time with crabs—blue crabs, spider crabs. The pleasures were certainly not mutual.

Off the tip of the park: Long Beach Bar (Bug Light) Lighthouse. First flash in 1871, burned by arson in 1963, rebuilt 1990. I'd read you could walk to it at low tide.

I could see Bug Light in the distance from the shore in Orient, where I was staying. There was something wonderful about getting close to it. This was as near as I could get and still make it out of the park by closing time.

Turning my back on the lighthouse, I point my camera across the spit to the North Fork, thus closing the circle between home and the beacon. For me, there's some sort of primal satisfaction in making connections like this. I was there, and now I am here.

Also near the tip: an empty osprey nest. The young have fledged, but I see the birds perching (nostalgically, I imagine) near the platforms. The sheltered water between the North Fork mainland and the state park is known as Long Beach Bay. Nice for kayaking and watching birds and crabs and fish and clams and scallops and mussels and snails and even diamondback terrapins!

Turning back.

Somewhere along the way, I realize how great this place is.

The basics.

Home: Looking back at the lighthouse, to where I've been. There. And here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

North Fork (Views)

Gonna start a new label: photo album. Here, more scenes from a lovely few September days in Long Island.



Great blue.



Spider crab?


Marsh bank, tidal flow.



Day, rising.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Road Trip, September

First stop: the backyard.

Sunset along a 2.5 mile climb at the end of 33-mile bike ride, Williamstown, MA.

A sign en route to Mt. Greylock. What more is there to say, really?

The view from Mt. Greylock. Glad I did that one by car! From there, Mass MoCa in North Adams (C.'s idea), and then Barre, MA.

After Labor Day at the "Insight. Meditation. Society," as teacher Ruth Denison referred to it, after biking and walking and drinking and eating with L. in and around Mystic, the car ferry from New London. Drinking a beer and breathing in, breathing out, letting the named features dissolve into shapes and colors....

And arriving at A.'s house in Orient, Long Island. A nice end to the summer: a stay that was a gift for my 50th birthday!