Thursday, June 23, 2005

Killer Birds from Hell

For the past several days, a group of big black birds (they aren't crows, but they sort of look like crows on steroids) have been swooping down and attacking everyone who walks by our building. They will perch on a lamppost or tree branch, wait until you are just past them, and then swoop down and brush either the back of your neck or your back with their wings. This is disconcerting, to say the least.

Lately, however, they've been getting even more aggressive. I watched out my window as a bird swooped this poor girl three or four times, circling to get a good shot each time. One of my co-workers said one actually landed on her head for a moment, then flew off. The swooping itself is annoying, particularly because the birds are quite clever and wait until your back is turned before diving on you. When they start making physical contact, however, that becomes a health hazard -- these birds carry all kinds of mites and even ticks. We called ASU's Facilities Management, and they said, "Well, I don't reckon there's much we can do..." Translation: We don't feel like doing anything about it. They must have gotten calls from more people than just those who work at the Space Flight Facility, though, as they eventually said, "Well, we'll see what we can do about it."

Their solution?

Put up signs saying "Caution: The birds may attack you."

Now there's a constructive approach. No, I'm not making this up.

These birds are typically territorial around nesting time anyway, but we think this year some workers trimmed their trees and inadvertently killed their babies. They are now nesting again, and at least two (and I think three) families of birds are actively cooperating to defend their nests -- and are more vicious than ever.

I find it interesting how certain urges seem to be almost universal to all species on Earth, including humans -- such as the desire to protect one's young, with violence if necessary. I find it equally interesting that while those who don't have kids can intellectually relate to this urge, they don't really feel it. Once you become a parent, however, the urge kicks in at a deep, gut level whether you want it to or not.* Those few species that do abandon their young to their fate seem utterly alien to us.

What does this have to do with writing? At its core, fiction writing -- and some non-fiction as well -- is about conflict. The more the writer can tie that conflict into basic, primal urges, the more strongly the reader can relate to the story. In effect, the writer is making use of the "universal radio channel" to establish a link to the reader. Think about it. The stories that affected you most probably did not introduce a conflict you have never experienced yourself.

Science fiction and fantasy authors can put this effect to use as well: An alien who doesn't share the same primal motivators that humans do will feel much more alien than one who does. It's the "man in the rubber suit" scenario (an alien that acts in all ways human is just a human in a rubber suit). The problem to watch out for here is that humans tend to naturally reject what is perceived as alien. If your protagonist is truly alien, you are going to have find some way to let your reader identify with him without utilizing the universal channel. This is no small task and is one of the reasons why writing good science fiction is so difficult.

And the birds? Well I'm all for loving and protecting nature, and as a parent, I certainly understand their need to protect their young. On the other hand, I'm a part of nature, too, and nature is all about species establishing boundaries. When they swoop me, they are invading my territory, and like all creatures on this planet, I intend to defend it. Today I brought my trusty racquetball racquet to work, and I intend to play a rousing game of "bird ball" if they try to swoop me again.

Batter up, sucka!

*If all humans share this trait, why do some people abuse their children? My psychology courses lead me to believe that child abuse never occurs unless the abuser has somehow convinced himself that the child is not actually his offspring. He may know the child is his at an intellectual level, but at a deeper, emotional level he does not. This also could indicate why step-children are more often abused than natural-born children. This suggests that one approach to "curing" a child abuser is to find some way to make him really realize the child is his young, to reconnect him to this particular frequency of the universal channel.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A "Caution" sign?!?!?!