Monday, December 22, 2008

For the birds

... as in, "This weather is for the birds!"

It's a good thing my "polar wings" were spread when I landed here. Between the big ice storm last week (no power for 6 days), the recent snow, and now the bitter cold, it's as though Explorers Cove doesn't want to release her grip. 

Some musings today about birds and making images, just to warm the spine:

Finches at the bird feeder during a snowstorm

I've always held a fascination for birds. Winter brings out their best: when it's cold, they puff up their feathers and become animated fuzzballs. Many of their root behaviors - forage and battle for food / attract and battle for mates - become evident in footprints frozen in the snow. The sleuth in me tries to discern these behaviors from their tracks, much as a paleontologist tries to interpret the life of dinosaurs from their prints in fossil mud.

Chickadee tracks in the snow

Frozen footprints and fossil tracks represent hard evidence of reality in the natural world. I find it interesting that photographs were once analogous to these tracks. That's no longer true, thanks to digital imaging and software that allow us to merge images seamlessly. For example, I can show you compelling pictures of Chairman Mao wearing a New Jersey Devils uniform (I hear he was a big ice hockey fan!) or Caroline Kennedy pushing a broom at Wal-Mart (that's what every soccer-mom representative of middle-class America has done, right?). But do such images represent reality? No - they are manifestations of the imagination. What has unlocked our limitless creativity has also shattered our faith in photographic evidence. It's a New Age for creatives ... as well as charlatans and thieves.

There is considerable debate among scientists about how we should use images to report our findings, i.e., to depict the realities of nature. I have touched on this topic in my art/science blog, and it is something that Claire Beynon and I have incorporated in previous work.

Ah, look -- an Adelie penguin has been visiting my bird feeder! For the first time in evolutionary history, penguins have tasted sunflower seeds.

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