Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Awareness of not ours alone

Well, I was back at Portland Head, which is also the location of Portland Head Light, a magnificent lighthouse that was built when George Washington was president. And, this time I had my Nikon spotting scope with me. This optic is tripod mounted and offers magnification from 15x to 45x.  In other terms, it is up to 4.5 times as powerful as my binoculars and needs to be on a tripod because at the higher magnifications it would be just too shaky to be useful.

I set up the scope and was looking at a sizeable flock of Common Eiders that were working their way along the rocky outcropping that forms the shore of most of Maine, in fact.  I glanced a bird in the small cove just below me and saw that it had a lot of white but was certainly not an Eider.  So, I moved the scope and when I finally got on this duck, I saw a stunning creature.  His eye was bright yellow, placed on a smashingly irridescent green head, with a large white spot on his cheek. I knew it was a Goldeneye, but without a birdbook in hand, I guessed it was a Barrow's Goldeneye, and didn't realize I was wrong until I got home and looked him up.  It was indeed a Common Goldeneye.
But, despite a name that would lead one to believe this duck is like some kind of Mallard or the ubiquitous Black Ducks we have all over this region, this little duck is far from ordinary.  He's another example of how amazingly Nature can design a creature.  See the photo to know what I am saying; he's just a jewel with feathers and a truly golden pair of eyes.

When I come across another reminder of how Nature combines color, design and an overall package that works so perfectly, it often makes me wonder about the reason that Beauty is so consistent in the natural world. I have no idea that the birds and flowers, the clouds and waves, the light phenomena, and Nature in its entirety were created by chance.  Nor do I sense that an anthropomorphized deity created all of this for our amusement or benefit in any way.  Nature--all of it--has evolved over the millions of years since this planet was a hot roiling mass of elements careening through space, because it has self-selected the qualities that it needed to continue the process of 'becoming'.  Each species--in whatever kingdom--has continually refined and evolved as it needed to in order to persist.

But, the real take-away from this scientific reality, is that Beauty is an integral part of the entire process.  It's not here for us...most certainly not....although there have clearly been legions of humans who have erroneously assumed that Nature is only here for us to use and to amuse us.  This is an unattractive artifact of the human ego, but it's been given a great assist along the way by the anthropocentric aspect of much religion too.  A male Goldeneye--or name your species of bird--became the stunning creature who now represents his species as a way of attracting a mate.  It needed to be ever more appealing in order for the species to propagate.

What this is telling us, is that birds, and a plethora of other species.....RECOGNIZE BEAUTY.  A particular bird of paradise from Papua New Guinea--it could easily be argued--is perhaps the most over-the-top beautiful creature on the planet.  When I saw such a bird on video, it almost took my breath away.  And then this 'bird-brain' put on a mating display that had me totally and utterly GOB-SMACKED.  And, it was indisputably all done to attract a female of his species.

So, what I am coming to here is this: we are not the only species on this planet that is aware.  If a simple duck or warbler can recognize beauty and respond to it, whose to say it cannot also respond to other forms of beauty in its environment.  We insist on holding ourselves up as so vastly superior, that we must be the focal point of all the natural world.  Well, the times are sending us the contemporary version of the same message that has been coming for several millennia now: we are not doing a very good job of being the 'smartest and only self-aware' beings on Earth.

In fact, we pretty much suck at it.  We are creating almost all of our own problems by means of our own arrogance, selfishness and stupidity.  Perhaps it's time we backed-off a little on the idea that God put us in charge and gave us permission to fuck everything up if we wanted to.  Doesn't that sound like a teenager who has burned down the house because he wanted to have a fire in the livingroom?

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