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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Birds, Brains, and Beauty

From Crafthub.com

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F, Couey
Written content only

Nature is many things from the violent to the visually stunning.  In some of those things, there is a stunning complexity to the design and execution that would challenge the ablest human artist or engineer.  If we only take the time to slow down, stop, and look closer, we can be amazed.

A couple of autumns ago, I was hiking on a section of the Appalachian Trail near Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.  This section has a very steep ascent called Weverton Cliffs.  The trail zigzags up 600 feet to a hiker's treat, a long, level stretch.  As I was struggling up the hillside, I came across a bird's nest lying just off trail under a good-size sycamore tree.  I picked it up and continued on.  When I finally go to the top, I stopped and sat on a convenient rock to catch my breath.  As I sat there, I began to look at the nest.  This was not the first nest I had seen, but it was the first one I had actually looked at.

I turned it over carefully in my hands and marveled at the intricate way the individual blades of grass were woven together.  The outside was stiff and strong, but the inside was much softer, befitting a resting place for the newborn.  I poured a small amount of water into the inside and watched as every drop drained through the bottom.  When the rain stopped, I realized that the birds would have a dry place to sleep.

It was an impressive piece of engineering, especially when I thought about how such a thing could be constructed.  Humans generally collect all the required materials at the jobsite and and then manhandle everything into place, using power tools, skill, and a set of blue prints. This particular nest had been assembled one or two blades of grass at a time, requiring innumerable trips back and forth, sort of like trying to build a house by bringing one board at a time from Home Depot,  Grass is rather flimsy stuff, one blade at a time, so as the bird flew in with a fresh load, those blades would have to be secured to the tree branch and not float away on the spring breeze.  This would take a lot of time and enormous patience.  The branch would have to be strong and stout, enough to withstand the powerful winds of a thunderstorm.  It needed to be high enough to be safe from ground-based predators, yet concealed from any winged threat.  The nest itself had to be securely attached to the branch so it wouldn't fall, even when the branch was waving back and forth.  Clearly, this was  no simple endeavor.

A human would find this to be a tough thing to do, even with both hands and a brain.  It was remarkable to me that this incredible thing was built by a creature whose only tools was a beak and instinct.

There's something very serene in the act of sitting in the forest contemplating one of nature's marvels.  To think about something very small amongst the very large opened my mind to a new perspective, that the world of the forest is one of many small layers all grouped together.  In a concerto, there are many instruments doing seemingly individual things, yet when all that comes together, we hear the result of communication and cooperation, all elements working together to create a beautiful harmony.

The forest is just such a place.  Everything you find there is supposed to be there.  From the rocks and the dirt to the highest leaf on the tallest tree, along with the creatures that fly, crawl, walk, and slither, all are vital parts to the larger symphony.

It's too easy to speed through our days, concerned only with the big things in our way.  We should all slow down and take the time to contemplate the small, often ignored things that create the world around us.

After a time, I left the nest lying beside the trail and continued my hike.  As I left that spot, I reflected upon the tiny creature that had created that nest, and the genius that construct implied.

I realized that this marvelous thing had come from that thing we so blithely call...a bird brain.
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