A CURIOUS CAT PERSON


It’s our third night out on Lake Insula, 40 miles from civilization, completely quiet, the weather mild for late September.  The barometer is falling and I notice a slight south wind, so change is coming, but for now, we savor Indian summer in Minnesota.  We camped on a point with views on three sides and up into Museum Bay, haven’t seen another soul for two days and won’t for three more.  On the north shore, a half mile away, is a fine beach that few ever see.  We walked it yesterday.  After dinner, I head out to ledge rock 20 feet above the water and start scanning with binoculars.  I do that when I’m in the woods.  I usually see conifers and rocks, but sometimes I strike gold.

This was one of those nights.  Within 15 seconds, my hands stop.  I see a large bull moose – his antlers catch the last bit of light – in water by the beach, and as I watch, he starts walking the shoreline toward us with alternating clops and splashes.  I’ve seen more than sixty moose in the wild, been within 12 feet of several, far too close.  One even followed me.  But to see one sauntering through the water, unaware of our presence, was one of my more memorable sightings.  We watched him 15 minutes in the growing dusk before he disappeared into the woods with the crashing of branches only a moose can produce.

Curiosity is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.  A while back, I worked with a church group removing buffelgrass in Oro Valley.  I’m not willing to cede our part of the Sonoran Desert to an invader.  Nor is “Dave,” who manipulates his wheelchair into deep sand of washes to bag it.  He is amazing.

Usually, I listen to music or podcasts while hacking, but this group was friendly, not trying to convert me and were living their faith, good stewards of a portion of the Earth.  That impressed me.  When we finished, a boy started asking questions about invasive species — why it was a problem, how it got there and burned so hot.  That impressed me, too.  I answered the first two questions, couldn’t answer the third, telling his mother that her son asked great questions.  She said he attended a science charter school.  Science and religion need not be mutually exclusive, but the anti-science drift and rise of American fundamentalism is disturbing.  Fortunately, I’m probably not going to be around when the bill comes due.  Perhaps this boy will help keep America competitive in science.

Later, his brother asked why clouds were white and how they formed.  They were also great questions, along with why the sky is blue and sunsets red or yellow.  More than half of Americans don’t know the astronomical definition of a year.  Bet these boys did.

I wish I had told the mother how good she was not quieting her boys.  Too many adults think it impolite for children to ask searching questions and drum curiosity out of children.  That’s wrong.  Perhaps it is a misguided sense of politeness.  Or perhaps the adult is embarrassed they don’t know the answer.  We need better questions asked, and we need more “I don’t knows.”  Maybe then we would be smarter.  I have a few questions:

  • When you awaken at night, why aren’t you fully dark adapted, but within a minute are?
  • What causes us to have annoying, persistent songs in our head?
  • What is the neuroscience behind dreaming?
  • Why do people with right hemispheric infarcts keep their eyes closed during the acute phase?
  • What causes shadow bands just prior to a total solar eclipse?

Instead, we are fed a fare of stupid tweets and non-balloon boys.  Another question:  What is happening to Tucson’s climate?  Colton hunts and sees first hand the desert’s dying.  He knows it is changing.  The Sonoran desert suffers from 26 consecutive years with above normal temperatures (and “normal” has been raised twice in the interval), 14 of the last 16 years with below normal rainfall, 2 ½ years’ deficit in the last 10; 7 of the 10 warmest years this decade and 1 in 5 days “unseasonable,” more than 10 degrees above normal.  Except 20% is no longer unseasonable.  It occurs two-thirds as frequently as below normal temperatures.

A snowfall in Baghdad is anecdotal.  Tucson’s changes are over decades and worsening.  For 20 years I’ve called it climate change, to be more precise, for world-wide rainfall patterns are changing, too.  This year, Tucson will be a “minor” 3 degrees above normal.  “Minor” is 7 of the first 11 months in the top 10 for warmest, even during the strongest solar minimum in a century, which ought to enhance cooling.

Half the bird species in the annual Christmas bird count have significantly moved north.  They don’t think climate change is a hoax.  Kutek Lake in Gates of the Arctic NP is disappearing as the permafrost melts.  My wife and I will eventually follow the birds, for we see the meteorological and political climate in Arizona both worsening.  I still have not heard a counterargument containing a margin of error, no pejorative attacks and no charged language.  We may be in an Anasazi drought.  I never dreamed I would become a climate refugee.

We can still deal with buffelgrass.  Go to www.buffelgrass.org and help out.

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