COLUMN: "Where ignorance comes natural"

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, March 14, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Where ignorance comes natural
By Aaron J. Brown

When the seasons change, skilled naturalists “strut their stuff,” a phrase often associated with certain mating rituals that nature experts customarily abandon when they finally identify all varieties of North American pine. These days, plants and animals kick off an elaborate stage play that ends the same way every year but that many people watch anyway, just like “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Christmastime. While I respect the people who have figured out this clockwork, something prevents me from accumulating the same knowledge. It’s probably Google’s fault.

So spring has sprung, except not really. You know and I know that there’s going to be some random winter storm this month or next that buries us under two feet of wet, white sludge and then laughs by melting that mess into your basement (That’s right, I’m talking to you, reader, about YOUR basement). Nevertheless, we have tasted spring this past week and that means we want more. But we aren’t the only ones that want more spring; nature wants it too.

In nature, spring expunges life on the landscape. Spring populates the wilderness and brings new purpose to the humans who build and destroy the natural world in the name of feeling superior to people who live in dense urban areas. For those like me, the woodland residents with no knowledge of woodlands, here are my most recent nature journal entries:

March 8; 3:30 p.m.
When I was playing outside with the boys our dog Molly caught some kind of critter in the back yard. I know it was a rodent because of its little rodent teeth but it was all messed up. I got a shovel and threw it into the part of the woods where we throw all the dead things and also where the tennis balls land when they fly over the garage roof. Note to self: wash tennis balls.

March 9; 11:46 a.m.
I saw a bald eagle eating a dead deer in the ditch. When the eagle saw me coming it leaped into the air and soared majestically as though to say, “Don’t judge me. That dead deer was an enemy of freedom.”

March 10; 10:26 a.m.
Man, did you see that bird? That bird was brown. That bird was fast. Was that a partridge? No way. That bird was way too fast. I think it was brown. Do you think the mail is here yet?

March 10; 3:12 p.m.
Out-of-state Facebook friend to me: “Are the loons back yet?”

Me to out-of-state Facebook friend: “No, the ice is still on the lakes and the loons won’t be here for a few weeks, unless you count the human versions.”

Ha-ha-ha! I know nothing about loons! They are the state bird!

March 11; 2:21 p.m.
A few days ago I saw another road kill deer on the side of the highway. A day later there were birds. The birds only picked at part of the upper haunch and then there were no birds for a few days. Then, more birds. Then I realized that this is exactly how people buy produce. Except that these carrion birds got their food for FREE.

There are a lot of birds in this world. They are as strange to me as people. People, as Doors fans know best, are strange. Perhaps the mere fact that I’m aware of my lack of outdoors knowledge is the first step toward actually learning the difference between species of bird, tree or fur-bearing mammal. Maybe in paying my ignorant attention to these types of details I’ll become the wily outdoorsy mountain man (person) who lives in my mind, mocking me for being a newspaper columnist. In my mind this person can also fix cars and maintain household appliances without professional assistance. I can hope.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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