Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Possibly headed 180 degrees in wrong direction?


“Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”__ Albert Einstein
“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” __ Henry David Thoreau

A few days ago, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story by Ezra Block and Robert Krulwich about flamingos dropping from the Siberian sky.
The story goes that in November, 2003, two young boys ice fishing on the Lena River in sub-zero weather, noticed a large bird circling lower and lower until it finally dropped and then lay quietly on the ground. The boys contacted their father and he picked the bird up and they took it home. “First time I see a bird like this,” the father said to a TV reporter.
The family fed the flamingo fish and water-saturated buckwheat while the bird recovered enough to pester the family’s dog and had to be relocated to a local greenhouse and finally to a zoo.
“That should be the end of the story. Except that one year later, also in November, and also in Siberia, it happened again. Another flamingo flew out of the sky, landed by another Siberian river, was also brought to the greenhouse, then sent to the zoo and the locals began to wonder, ‘Where are these birds coming from? What are they doing here?’”
The NPR reporters tried to solve the puzzle and enlisted the help of Marita Davison, a flamingo scientist at Cornell University. Davison noted that the birds are social animals and that if there was one flamingo, there was probably more. Determining that the nearest regular habitat for that particular variety of bird was in Kazakhstan and Iran, and also finding historic records of documented flamingo sightings in Siberia a 100 years ago, she came up with a working theory.
“Here is the idea. Suppose a bird is wired to fly one direction every fall and for some reason the wiring screws up so the animal goes 180 degrees the wrong way, exactly the opposite direction. This happens to a few birds in migrant populations every year. When she looked on a map, she notices that the village (where the birds were found in Siberia), was roughly the opposite distance and opposite direction from the flamingo’s normal winter quarters in Iran,” according to the NPR story.
I am not sure what we learn from this story but it brings to mind several ideas related to growing up in my boyhood home in Dolores, Colo.
The social network in a small isolated town (Dolores, in this case) allows you to cross numerous boundaries. Common lines of demarcation such as age, ethnicity, social and economic class don’t mean much there, in my view. However, inclusion and participation was dependent on certain things.
Growing up, I knew and became fast friends with people seven-, maybe eight- times my age, 10-times as wealthy or as poor as me, and from as varied of social and ethnic background as the population would allow. No big deal.
An 11-year-old paperboy commanded almost the same respect as the 80-year-old codger waiting for the paper every afternoon on his front porch.
But God help you, if you at some point became attached to an “incident” or “event” that secured your reputation forever. It takes a long time to ‘live down’ such attachments.
Even minor things could take years. By way of example, once, in a seventh-grade basketball game, I became confused after the half, and headed north when I really should have really headed south. Perhaps I should have discovered earlier something was amiss when Brent Hamilton tried to stop me from completing a layup. But to shorten a long, sad story, Coach Bill Estes, christened me “Wrong Way” Carrigan shortly thereafter. The reference having its origins in name similarity to
American aviator Douglas Corrigan, nicknamed "Wrong Way" in 1938. After a transcontinental flight from Long Beach, Calif., to New York, Corrigan flew from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York to Ireland, though his flight plan was filed to return to Long Beach. He claimed his unauthorized flight was due to a navigational error, caused by heavy cloud cover that obscured landmarks and low-light conditions, causing him to misread his compass.
It took me several years, discontinued participation, Estes’ relocation, and an extra-ordinary public relations strategy on my part to remove that designation. I hesitate to even mention it today.
But at least I didn’t fly 2,000 miles in absolutely the wrong direction and drop out of the sky in a Siberian winter.
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