Monday, February 16, 2004

Homing Pigeons

There are no two ways about it. We will have to scrap an expression in the English language. Birds don’t move “as the crow flies”. They follow roads, canals and railroad tracks! Just like us!
Scientists in Britain have attached GPS transmitters to the backs of homing pigeons, and let them loose in country familiar to them. Instead of relying on their inner navigation instincts and fly in a straight line, they were lazy and followed man made transportation channels. Some would even follow the ring road and take the correct turn!
Apparently, there is something that is more important to pigeons than saving energy, was the conclusion of the scientists.
You bet there is! This is something that humans seem to have forgotten, but children still know.
I remember our trips to school when we were young. So much was more important than efficiency. So much distracted us from getting from A to B in the quickest way.
We lingered to pick and eat beechnuts, not knowing they contained cyanide. We ate tons of them and never got sick.
We would lean against the gates of the big house, where Miss Mees lived. To us she was a cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and a Fairy Godmother. But we never saw her, and our interest in her waned.
On the corner stood the wooden stand of Mr. Koeman, who sold tobacco and sweets: licorice laces and diamond shaped marshmallows, called “spekkies”. My favorite was “black on white”, a salty licorice powder the color of pepper. You would drop it from a small paper bag into the palm of your hand and lick it up with a wet fingertip.
One day a truck came driving past us on our way to school. Right in front of our eyes it lost one of its front wheels. The driver jumped down from his cabin running after the wheel, that was still happily rolling off into the distance across the sandy plain. It seemed so silly: the truck driver hurrying after the runaway wheel, and the truck left behind, a sorrowfully kneeling cripple. We felt powerless, and continued on our way.
We had other adventures. We buried a dead bird, digging its grave with sticks and covering it with brown leaves. We felt terribly important. And I’m sure we were!
We impersonated the Famous Five, and made up endless stories.
And yes, after we had dealt with all those more important matters, we would eventually arrive at school.
And at the end of the day, like the pigeons, we would always come home to roost.

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