As a form of recreational escape, we packed up the kids and drove to Grants Pass today. This is an occasional ritual for us, wherein we attempt, almost always unsuccessfully, to lull our youngest to sleep during the 45-minute drive, but instead he nods off just as we arrive, and we are forced to adjust our lofty plans of playing family kickball to head straight for our favorite restaurant: a homey little kitchen made of brick, tucked away downtown, with staff we know will be happy to serve us outside, even in cold weather. We leave the window open, he sleeps, his sister sips hot cocoa, and my wife and I split a carafe of jalapeño-infused mimosa, along with homemade biscuits, beet soup, and egg sandwiches. Not so bad.
Later, we head to the original destination: Riverside Park, unsurprisingly nestled up against the Rogue River, where we are spoiled with ample parking, an uncluttered view of the river, and a quiet, suburban nature-bath. The visit was a qualified success: more running than falling, fewer tears than smiles; and we never once had to rescue our Minions-themed bouncy-ball from the placid waters. Often, for a family, spending time together is its own reward.
As we were leaving, after I spent a few torturous seconds silently judging an hispanic woman for feeding crackers to the ducks - my understanding is that cut-grapes is a better option - I decided that this particular team of ducks had long ago crossed over to the dark side, and was happy for the attention, if not the empty calories. On the grassy slope that led down to the river there were easily 100 fowl, ranging from two distinct cliques of duck - the smaller greeny ones, and the slightly-plump brown ones - to a half-dozen geese large enough to be turkeys, and a singular, odd-looking creature with the tail-wag of a dog, the feet of a duck, and the un-swollen snood of a gobbler, touting an air of nonchalance.
My captivated children immediately dubbed it the 'turkey chicken,' and were impassioned and vocal in their enthusiasm for it; he remained casually nonplussed. I, ever the amateur videographer, was able to capture his presence on film with the help of a 38mm lens extension for my smartphone camera (don't ask); and now, I have proof-of-life from a hybrid species of wild bird-alchemy, and have (obviously) taken to Twitter for confirmation of my exciting scientific discovery. As of this writing, I have earned one like, and a high-profile retweet from "Bird Watching Asia." A viral spike is clearly forthcoming, which I await with a combination of white-knuckled anticipation and selfish entitlement.
Biologists will tell you that mutation happens on a lark - some genes move around, some don't, but the moment of newness cannot be predicted, and is immediately subject to the forces of Darwinism, such that if the spontaneous mutation can deliver an immediate, palpable benefit towards the ability to successfully survive and subsequently procreate for the animal in question, then those genes are more likely to be replicated, and the species will, over time, reflect the impact of that adjustment. Or something like that. Back to our freakish specimen - is he a durkey, or a turkuck?
Because, in all probability, this is not a spontaneous mutation, but a classic case of sexual predation: turkey eyes hapless duck, turkey makes aggressive move; duck has horrible experience.
Via Twitter, we now know it was a Muscovy drake. Alas, no scientific awards for me.
You may have heard the old canard (see what I did there?) that the world will be fine, it's the people that are in trouble, when we discuss the effects of climate change; but I have to disagree, on principles of street-wisdom and armchair philosophy. It would seem to me that that the sweeping and destructive side-effects of global temperature fluctuations - dryer drys, and wetter wets across the delicate ecosystems that we hold dear - will, sadly, create more than just human losers. Consider the Australian koala, which has recently been added to the list of imminent extinctions, with a natural habitat decimated by wildfire. Consider the entire collection of living organisms - with which I have scant familiarity - that once nestled in the verdant bosom of the Great Barrier Reef, which is not long for this world, due to rampant ocean-acidification. Perhaps it is true that the idea of this world as a great mountain that reaches above the clouds, pinched from subterranean plates of earth and rock, can sustain itself on symbolism alone. For some the idea of billions of human beings being reduced to a handful of improbably-resourceful, fleece-clad snow-eaters, presiding pragmatically over the near-extinction of earth's most self-obsessed tenants, provides a sort of morbid schadenfreude, in the style of Stephen King's "The Stand." Not I.
Although there is reason, in abundance, to give up hope, there is always the trump card of unforeseen circumstance, and the fuzzy possibility of a combination of grit and sacrifice saving us in the 11th hour. Sort of like a 4th-down Hail Mary, but for people, with no opposing team that has to lose. If a turkey-chicken can proudly maintain a sense of elegant composure in a field of ducks and geese, if the children of our collective humanity can still find delight in the simple peculiarities of life, then there remains something deep and substantive to fight for: the idea that this is not over. Complacency is not just the enemy, but also a punishment before the crime. Hope is beautiful, hope is contagious, and we will need vast factories of hope and goodwill to churn, for the rest of our days, and beyond, if we are to redeem, as humans, our destructive tenancy in the only home we have ever known. It is not enough to recycle harder, and consume less, and strike meat from our diets, and pull the corrupting influence of money out of our systems of political deliberation - worthy causes, to be sure - but we must also believe that the underlying reality and substance of our lives can change. Disinformation can be walked back, compassion can be rediscovered, and hatred can be buried in the ground. Our lives depend on it.
A lesson from the turkey-chickens of the world: even as biological unequals, we can continue to thrive together. The only rule will be that the future cannot be allowed to look like the past. As long as there is life, there is hope - let us waste no more of either.