If I discover something that someone else already discovered, but that I had no knowledge of before, shouldn’t I be considered as equally intelligent as the person who saw it first? For example, I was looking out my classroom window, and I observed two large Canadian geese foraging for food on the school’s lawn. As I watched them, I noticed how one seemed to standing guard while the other one ate. After awhile, they switched roles. Later on in the day, I was jogging through my neighborhood when I spied the same phenomenon happening again. This was something I had never noticed before. I brought it up to my students, and one of them commented, “You didn’t know that? My dad told me they always feed in pairs.” Evidently, I wasn’t the first to formulate this theory; but, since I found it out by myself, I still feel justified in saying I discovered it.
Speaking of standing guard, there’s one thing about meerkats that always puzzles me. Whenever I see them on TV or at the zoo, there’s always those couple who stand watch for predators. They sit up high on their hind legs looking out while everyone else eats, grooms or plays tag. My question is: how does the pack decide who stands watch? Is this a job reserved for the most trusted, or do they give it to that weird one who keeps talking about Pokemon cards all day long? This brings up additional procedural points like: how long is a shift? do they have a supervisor? do they run regular predator drills? The older I get, the less I seem to know.
Since I started writing out these little lists, I’ve had several people comment to me that they also have random questions and thoughts. For example, one of my brother-in-laws related this one to me: how do flies land on ceilings? Do they execute a half-loop maneuver that slams them into the roof of the room at the top of the arc, or do they perform some sort of barrel roll just before touching down? I’ve seen flies walking on the ceiling but had not considered before how they got there. I know I could probably just Google it, but I kind of want to find out on my own. That way, I can take credit for discovering it (see first thought above).
Another example of the deep thoughts of others: as an end-of-the year gift, a student presented me with a blank journal which had a very eloquent thank-you letter from her written inside. She told me it took her a long time to find the right one because she didn’t want one made out of recycled paper, which I initially found quite strange. When I asked her why this was such an important prerequisite, she said that even if you removed all the ink from the previous writer, there’s still the risk of the journal being contaminated by his/her ideas. For some reason, that makes perfect sense to me.
And one last guest rumination, this time from a different student. He asked me in class one day, “When you see a bird outside, how do you know if you’ve seen it before?” That one got me to thinking. Obviously, we would recognize if we saw the same person, or dog, or cat each day; but a bird is a different story. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to find identifying marks on the various songbirds that routinely gather in the landscaping around my house. The only one I feel confident in identifying is this little raggedy looking robin that meets me each morning for breakfast on the veranda. He just skips along on the edge of the grass looking vaguely pathetic. Yet, he can fly; and I can’t. This brought me to another thought. How much effort does it take for a bird to flap its wings? In human terms, is flying as strenuous as walking, jogging or sprinting? If you added up every little foray from tree to tree, how many miles does a bird fly in an average day? Oh, never mind, there’s probably an app that tells me that already.
Does it bother animals that they can’t talk? I use a live-trap on my porch to get rid of the chipmunks who burrow under my foundation. I don’t kill them; they just get a free ride to a very nice park a few miles (and several busy streets) away. I call it my chipmunk involuntary relocation project. So, my thought is, what if a chipmunk were to witness another one getting ensnared. Say, he saw the whole process play out. Wouldn’t he be frustrated by his inability to ever communicate this danger to the rest of his family? He would have no way to warn the others about it except perhaps through pantomime. Maybe that’s why they keep falling for the same trap over and over again.
Here are a couple of fun questions to ask your waiter/waitress next time you go out to eat. Before ordering a cheeseburger, ask how long has it been since the cow the meat came from was alive. Two days? A week? What color of cow was it? Or, you could order the chicken sandwich and then casually ask how much your waitperson would pay for a single chicken. Just an ordinary, everyday white-feathered hen. Three bucks? Twelve bucks? Request ice-water for your drink. When it comes, ask when will the water be the coldest: as soon as the ice was put-in, when the ice is half-way melted, or when the ice is completely gone? You would think that those working in the food-service industry would know these type of things, but my experience is that they are woefully undereducated. I still like to ask these questions anyway because at least it gives them something interesting to text about when they should be refilling my drink.