Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Passing Conversations

Conversations are born in the quiet moments between words. It is a space in time where thoughts develop into prepared speech. Instead of listening to what other’s have to say, we are busy locking and loading our next volley of verbs. Life’s knowledge is passed along by all of us in a huge global game of "Telephone," where you whisper into one person’s ear and pass the message along until it comes out totally twisted. We love to share what we think we know, and what we know is only enhanced by the amount of mutual ignorance we can gather around us.
Along the Oregon coast one evening we camped at a roadside viewpoint. We knew that was illegal, but we were fortunate enough to run into several people willing to share their ignorance on the subject and convince us that the "no camping" rule was not enforced.
We had a great evening watching the sun slowly drop, setting the ocean ablaze in broken color. Suddenly, we could see a man running toward us yelling and pointing off shore. He pointed out to us the whales sounding just off the beach, unselfishly shared with us his entire, yet limited, ignorance on whale watching, then continued down the beach to share his enthusiastic ignorance with others. Eventually, he worked his way back up the beach, gave us a few more tidbits of whale knowledge he had just gleaned from his latest conversations of shared ignorance along the beach, mounted his Harley, and headed home to Oklahoma. As the sun died and the rolling ocean before us flattened, we sat at the viewpoint alone. Everyone had taken his share of ignorance and moved on. We continued to look out at the sounding whales that had now become, once again, jutting rocks. But we knew in the morning the water would again turn them into splash points of sounding whales and it was up to us to point the whales out to another chain reaction of travelers so that ignorance would not die on a lonely stretch of Oregon beach.
An Oregon State Park ranger stopped to tell us we could not park overnight at the viewpoint. We would have to stay in the state park, but it was full. We told him if we didn’t stay to point out the whales to the morning’s visitors a great chain of ignorance could be broken and Oregon would be dropped from millions of conversations hatched from hearsay.
He could see the significant benefit to the state and wisely decided to become ignorant of the fact that we were camping. He said we could night view the ocean until morning, and left us to guard ignorance for the evening.
Our ignorance often shines through when observing nature. Even those who think they grasp the fine details of nature’s mechanisms fall far short of assembling a full understanding of her infinite system of connectivity. One morning while waiting for my coffee to perk I stood and watched a ruby throated hummingbird perched below my nectar feeder on a long strand of vine. The wind was gusting heavily and I thought the bird might be trapped, clinging to the vine for dear life while swinging wildly to the whim of the wind and the trumpet vine. It also occurred to me that perhaps the bird enjoyed this jostling. The trumpet vine may be the hummingbird’s equivalent of a Six Flags amusement park ride like the "Corkscrew Upchucker."
I watched the bird for several minutes. He never attempted to fly. He was hunkered down riding it out— no less spectacular than watching a skilled bull rider hang on with sheer determination. In an instant the bird untethered himself from the vine and at the velocity of a bullet shot himself across the yard to a Beauty bush in complete control.
Many conclusions could be drawn as to how this bird, who weighs less than the wind, can master its movements against such a foe. But I’m satisfied in the belief that it is just another example of a miracle of nature and the awesome power of life itself.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird

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