Monday, June 27, 2016

In the Beginning


I treasure the turtle image Galapagos officials stamped on my passport. It is a souvenir of a life-changing experience for me and for others on the trip. Because I was dean at a Florida college, the biology faculty invited me to go along on a summer field trip to those extraordinary islands to observe the pedagogy as well as the amazing flora and fauna. You see, every other summer, a couple of our biology professors and a theology professor took 15 to 20 science majors down there to walk in the steps of Charles Darwin. During the journey, we all read books about Darwin’s theory and, each evening, heard lectures from the theology prof, balanced by discussion led by the scientists.

We flew into the largest of the complex of islands and boarded The Corinthian, a large boat that would be our home for the eight-day tour of the region. In a sense, every morning we opened our eyes to a new world, as each island is unique: some desert, some jungle, some forested and some tropical. I had heard our biology folks say that animals had not learned to fear humans down there, but I was not expecting a mocking bird to land on my shoulder. When that happened, the leader of our group said, “The bird sees your water bottle, but don’t give it any water because the national park folks do not want the birds to become dependent on tourists for their water.” I obeyed, but was certainly tempted not to. I had never seen such a thirsty look in a bird’s eye.

The sea lions were not afraid of us either. They just gave us a look as if to say, “Hello, folks, don’t step on me or my kin.” We went for a swim right there in the colony and some of the younger ones came in with us. It is an eerie feeling to be nuzzled by a sea lion pup. They are playful, very much like canine puppies. Penguins also darted about as we swam, yes, right there on the equator.

Frigate birds let you get up close enough to watch their mating ritual, namely blowing their red throat sack out and waving their extended wings while they look to the heavens. That was a sight to see, as was our leader’s imitation of the phenomenon. He carried a red scarf with him for just the purpose of hilarious reenactment. Students loved to watch their professor in his role as frigate bird seeking a mate.

Other birds such as the blue-footed booby and the red-footed booby allowed close observation as well. I read that Darwin was going to shoot one for observation, but discovered he did not have to do that. He could get up close and personal without taking a life. I recall actually handing a twig to a booby for her nest. She almost said thank you.

On the way back to Florida, we landed in Quito, where we took pictures standing on the equator and feasted on the best steak in the world. It was our frigate bird professor’s birthday and we had a wonderful meal and celebration in a restaurant overlooking the sparkling city. When we landed in Miami, I felt as if I had been to the beginning of the world in the Book of Genesis.

 

 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Dog Language


Dog languages specialize very rapidly compared to that of humans. No one knows that better than a veterinarian. The reason dogs bark so much in the reception area is that they do not understand each other. They are trying to pick up strains of a familiar tongue to no avail.

Bicycle riders also know that. Since dogs are not highly mobile, short distances make all the difference in the way they speak. As a linguist and a bicyclist, I have noticed the phenomenon when these protective creatures come out at me as I ride by. When I first deciphered a dog language, I lived in Magnolia, Ark. On the west side of town, the dogs had an accent that became very familiar to me. But the mere distance of five miles made a huge difference. “Get away from my yard” in western Magnolia language is: “abbah bah bah abbah arr arr arr abbah mmmgh,” whereas the same statement out towards Logoly State Park can be rendered phonetically as: “woop wooppy warp warp warp gmmph mmgh graph.” So, you see, an entirely new language group exists in just a short distance.

I came to understand this more fully as I considered what the dogs may be saying to me (or about me) according to their body type. I suppose I am indebted to Sheldon’s personality type classifications as I interpret these canine statements. The large muscular dogs often say, by interpretation, “Get that silly bicycle out of here before I eat your leg.” When these big dogs said that, I generally turned the crank as rapidly as possible yelling in my own language, “No dog!” It usually worked. Once I squirted a Doberman with my water bottle and he just sat down and laughed his head off.

Now the fat, happy dogs such as hounds are usually just saying, “Hello, bicyclist. Let me run along here beside you and please my master. He actually thinks I protect the place.” All I have to do to get rid of these floppy animals is to say, again, in my own language, since most are bilingual, “Supper!” That turns them homeward every time.

The most dangerous animals are the little intellectual ones such as dachshunds and Shih Tzus. When they get after you, they are saying, “Hey, you, I am going to trick you into crashing and go for your throat.” They run to and fro directly in front of your bicycle. The best remedy for these is to learn their names. They are often called, “Charlie,” or “Francine” or “Fred” or “Fritz.” Call out their name in English and they will stop, tilt their coiffured head and say, “Where do I know you from?”

So, if you are a dog linguist and a bicyclist, you have an advantage out there on the dangerous highways and backroads of life. Just remember that you have to be multilingual if you wish to understand them. What a dog says in De Queen may be utterly indecipherable in Lockesburg.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Looketh Here


When thou seest it come to pass that election season hath arrived, be thou not dismayed for the chaos thou findest, for such seasons alway alarmeth. It hath ever been so. Thou, when thou enterest into the political season, steel thyself against falsehood and wrath. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. I will repay.

And when thou goest to a political rally, hit not thy opponent’s followers up beside the head, for in doing so, thou hurtest thyself and thy cause instead. Rather behave thyself with utmost decorum, thereby bringing honor to thy candidate and not shame. By their fruits you shall know them. By all means, burneth not a flag at such rallies. By all means, wave not a flag of another land at such rallies. By all means, walk not on police cars, nor burn anything, nor throw rocks, nor swear, nor gesture obscenely. Such works are vanity.

And when thou listeneth to those myriad voices electronically conveying their inmost thoughts concerning the ambitious who would aspire to lofty position, temper thy thoughts with wisdom. All words are not fact and truth, but tinged with mere opinion. Findest thou not just those agreeable heads which talketh and columnists which writeth, but list and read those in disagreement as well, for in the counsel of many cometh wisdom. Broaden thy mind and ponder the other person’s point of view. Pray for those who despitefully use you and who say all manner of evil against thy candidate.

And let not the bitter conflict between candidates unduly hamper thy life. Look to thy own affairs and arm thyself with truth as thou hast sought it out. There is great merit in forbearance.

Perhaps thou art one of those who hath been in the ruling bodies of the land for many years and one cometh who hath not been in the traditional role of those in the ruling bodies. Perhaps this one cometh and bloweth the minds of those long ruling by brashness and lack of decorous acumen politically. If that come to pass, then, old established ruling bodies must ponder their lives, looking deep within their legacies. Hast thy way been the best way for those thou ruleth? Hast thou gotten fat off the land thou didst not plant? Hast thou reaped where thou didst not sow? Consider thy own service and then thou mayest convey displeasure to that one who cometh out of another realm, aspiring to reform thy lack of zeal.

Perhaps thou are one who wisheth to break the mold of male leadership, thus offering thy own self as leader as a woman. Imitate not male rhetoric. Rather, the strength of a woman’s words delivered womanly have a power called authenticity. Imitate not. Authentically pursue thy goal.
Perhaps thou burneth to reform the money system of an entire wealthy country by equalizing wealth, considering not the earning of it. Perhaps thou gestureth as if thou directeth an orchestra with zeal and amazing aplomb. Perhaps thou art old and yet wisheth to appear vigorous. Getteth thou not thy hopes too high. I, even I who writeth am older than thou