November 3rd, 2001

caillebotte_man at his window

An Actual News-Related Entry!

I don't do this very often, but when I find something this good, I like to share it. New Yorkers may already have seen it, since it was published in yesterdays New York Times. And, since it is by Salman Rushdie, it will probably be syndicated to other papers as well. In case you aren't lucky enough to have one of those papers, go to the Times web site to read Yes, This Is About Islam. For me, an article about Islam by Rushdie carries a lot more weight than anything by a person who is not part of Muslim culture.

Time Warning: The Times web site makes articles available for free only for seven days from the date they were published, so don't delay.
caillebotte_man at his window

Blissless Ignorance

This afternoon, I saw a flock of birds wheeling over my neighborhood. They were moderately large birds, about the size of gulls. Their undersides were white, but the tops of their wings appeared to be black. As they flapped, they created a pleasing display of moving black and white against the blue of the sky. The problem is, I don't know what species they were.

I find this to be a frequent problem. I know the names of many common species of plants and animals, but there are huge gaps in my knowledge. Growing up in a metropolitan suburb, in the last half of the twentieth century, I learned surprisingly little about nature. The books produced by a sophisticated modern culture have taught me something about ecology, but much of the ordinary detail of the natural world is missing. Instead of learning the names of species, and something about their behavior, I learned about Bugs Bunny, movie stars, the various makes of automobiles, the names of presidents and state capitals.

To be sure, I am happy to be a modern urbanite. I think that cities are as natural to humans as Prairie Dog Towns are to that highly social species. But I sometimes envy our ancestors their casual accumulation of knowledge about the natural world, gained in the course of everyday life, without the need to bury their noses in books.