Monday, May 20, 2013

North American Discovery

Discovery Channel has broadcast the first of its newest nature blockbusters. North America highlights 110 different North American species with startling HD photography. Three years in preparation, its venues range from mountains to plains, from the Arctic to the Tropics, from sky to land to sea, from punishing heat to chilling cold, and from tranquil to violent weather. The wonders of nature on our home continent may hold even greater appeal than the wonders of previous productions Planet Earth, Frozen Planet, and Africa. These natural wonders have significantly retreated from our awareness owing to our incessant focus on technological gadgets feeding, among other things, our sense of materialism and social networking. The last-mentioned dimension of our modern experience is a discussion topic with a completely different focus.

The unusual beauty and behavioral habits of the many species highlighted on North America will no doubt become a spectacular media success on many fronts. The intelligence of the animals and their unique environmental adaptations contribute to enjoyment of their life’s challenges, often in pursuit of food or a mate. Some animals use their intelligence to avoid becoming another creature’s meal. The producers portray the sensitivity of the animals, imposing an anthropomorphism sometimes termed “soulishness” by commentators on animal life. This characteristic, when used in connection with the animal world by scholar Hugh Ross, is defined as “the endowment of mind, will, and emotions in order that these creatures may form relationships with members of their own species as well as with human beings.”

If there is any valid commentary on such media specials, perhaps it could come in this form: The implication that the animals must manifest highly stunning or spectacular traits is reasonable if a producer wants to maximize program viewership. The striking grandeur of animal behavior, weather events, or the beauty of our cosmos are sometimes topics of biblical authors in Job, the Psalms, and other scriptures. We may infer that there are more sources of wonder which are arguably less remarkable, but nevertheless fully worthy of our focus. In our entertainment culture, perhaps we should search for the remarkable in more ordinary, mundane events. Such a search may result in our best defense against boredom!

Just after the glorious spring arrival of tree leaf-out in May, I imagined what my personal North America special would highlight. Our cold, snowy winter is a distant memory. In my neighborhood, the annual May leaf-out of forests has arrived one month later than last year. Our regional farmers have attempted to make up time lost to a cool, rainy spring by using the headlights on their equipment to plant this year’s corn and beans in the dark.

In my residential neighborhood, I have taken note of the recent arrival of our migrant bird population. In particular, I’ve researched the most familiar recent arrivals and where those avian “snow birds” spent their winters. Starting with the scarlet tanager--one flashy male sang next door from the very top of a lofty dead oak branch. He had never before favored us with a visit to our immediate neighborhood, at least not where I could spot him. He had wintered in Mexico or Central America. Many other arrivals had made use of the same wintering spot: Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and catbirds. Barn swallows all wintered in South America. Indigo buntings and towhees have yet to return from their wintering grounds. The navigation skills of these departing and returning migrants, the monogamous behavior of many species, and their ability to return to the same neighborhood year after year ranks them high on my catalog of remarkable feats.

Our monogamous cardinal pair remained all winter, usually keeping each other company. This spring they even sang on occasion during the darkest night. Groups of bluebirds, robins, purple finches, and goldfinches are year-round or partial migrants. Woodpeckers and owls stay all year, drumming, or hooting. The last report in our personal North America neighborhood special consists of details of a spectacular spring display of wild turkeys on our street. In past years the tom turkeys have taken to displaying their impressive fans on our lawn. Last week six males displayed their fans in a lengthy ritual courtship demonstration for two females in the middle of our sparsely traveled street. Other species of birds visit all year or seasonally. They didn’t make it to this listing.

The six or seven dozen bird species I have spotted (some neighbors have identified far more) impress us with their distinctive appearance and many unique behaviors and songs. Each species makes a special contribution to my personal chronicle entitled “North America of Northern Illinoisfor readers around the country. It is one of my many reasons to worship the Lord of all Creation on a daily basis.