Back in the fall

January 4, 2015

Intelligence
Back in the fall, my son Alec and my grandson Nicholas were fishing on an ocean inlet in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
We witnessed an amazing act of nature.
An Osprey made a dive from the sky to secure a fish in its talons. Another day at the office for the Osprey. Not quite. Normally, once snatching the fish, it would alight with its prey to fly off to its wife and kids waiting for supper. But, the fish was too big. The Osprey could not rise out of the water with its catch. So, there the bird flapped, trying to stay afloat with it’s hefty catch still clutched in its grasp.
We assume that the water birds of prey fish every day, and catch fish every day. Maybe they fish every day, but do not catch fish every day. It is doubtful this Osprey was clutching to this day’s catch out of greed. It could have been a week’s worth of food. A week’s worth of hunger.
The water eagle had to make a decision. Turn loose of the wonderful catch, or drown.
Unless.
The bank was only twenty-five feet away. The bird then began to swim with fish in tow. To call it “swim” is being generous. It is hard to describe. Flapping the only wing not submerged in the water, this incredible water fowl, slowly and laboriously made its way to a rocky fringe of the lagoon. There it landed, fish still gripped strongly in the right talons. It climbed up on to solid footing. For fifteen minutes it flapped it’s wings and shivered it’s under feathers like a dog jumping from a bath.
It was getting rid of the excess weight of the water logged body. Lightening its load for a takeoff.
And then when nature, or God, or whatever told this lowly creature it was time to go, he lumbered off on its solitary way. Like the old bulky and rattling C-130s I fearfully rode so many times in the Army, our feathered creature ponderously gained attitude furiously beating its wings just above the surface of the water for a terrorizing time.
And then it headed into the sky, home in time for supper with Molly and the kids.
Incredible.
Upon reflection, I realized that this lowly creature—this bird brain—used amazing intelligence to extricate himself from seemingly a hopeless situation.
What if he had been in an open waters, maybe miles from shore? He would have released his prey. But he wasn’t. He eyed the shore near at hand, which was his salvation. “If I can make it over there, I can lighten my load of water soaked feathers. I won’t have to lift off from this watery entanglement. Patience. I can do this.”
And so it made it’s ugly way to shore. And there, with the fish still clawed in its clutch, it had to think. Am I ready to take off? He possessed no computer chip buried in a composite jumble of wires and connectors calculating his weight to drag ratio. He was solely on his own, his wit against nature.
At some point—like a human decision to fill up the gas tank and leave for vacation—he made a cognizant decision. Time to go.
I went home that night and read about the Rosetta Mission. The European Space Agency had sent out a space craft ten years ago to land on a meteor speeding through space 300 million miles from earth. That is not a misprint. 300 million miles from earth. And, it caught up with the fleeing meteor which was traveling 40,000 miles an hour. That’s right, 40,000 miles per hour.
And…it landed on its surface. At my reading of the report, it was sending back to earth information about the composition of this meteor. There is much more. We’ll leave it at that.
The mind can only absorb so much. After a while the superlatives—amazing, incredible, unbelievable—become hollow and meaningless. For many things in our space exploration, our adjectives have not caught up with our feats.
Intelligence. Which had the most? The human mind evolving over eons to master such a venture to the stars? Or the lowly Osprey in the water, desperately holding to life? The master mind of the homo sapien chasing meteors around the universe like a cowboy chasing down a stray calf? Or the ocean eagle, with its limited ancestry and the brain size of a lima bean?
It’s all relative. One effort was rooted in curiosity. The other—survival. Life is not being dealt a good hand. It’s playing a poor hand well.
In the grand scheme of God’s unbelievable universe, I’d call it a draw.