Thursday, December 14, 2017

I'm Smart... But Kind of Dumb

Picture of an embarrassed man.
Embarrassed (and eating crow)
I’m smart. Not Stephen Hawking smart, but I received a good education and have a solid grasp of basic knowledge. In fact, my brain teems with trivia, leading my family to suggest I try out for Jeopardy. So I’m used to being right about facts. But a recent public error left me red-faced after I spent a few moments arguing an incorrect “fact” — which cannot be a fact if it’s false by definition.

Anyways, here’s the story. During a writer’s group meeting, I read from a burial scene set in November from a novel-in-progress. Death is hard to write about without sounding maudlin, so I wanted feedback, hoping I dodged melodrama. Based on group comments, I succeeded.

Things ripped along, encouraging me, until a group member. a published mid-list military historian of some repute, cleared his throat to make an editorial observation. The text included this line: “A flock of geese honked north.”  We live in northeastern Ohio, he pointed out, so our geese fly south during the winter.

I maintained they flew north. I grew up within a mile of Lake Erie, which swarmed with Canadian geese. In my years, I had seen dozens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of flocks migrating. All headed north, a fact which amused me, confirming my suspicion that nature, for all her beauty, was often idiotic.

But as I argued, some group members with smartphones googled, finding that Canadian geese flew south for the winter. Though cock-sure, I was wrong, my argument a lost cause.

Talk about eating crow, a lot less-tasty than a goose.

Now to the issue: How could I have been that wrong for years? And where had I picked up that incorrect factoid? My guess is PBS’s Nature, which my father loved, where I misheard a narrator talking about a South American bird, which I mistook as a Canadian goose, that overwintered north of their summer range. Whats more, a percentage of our geese stay put and winter here, in the Cleveland area. In error, I had assumed these were geese had from down south.


Worse, though, is that I perceived EVERY single flock of geese I’ve seen migrating in the fall as flapping north, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Like the aforementioned Lake Erie, a huge inland waterway, sitting a bike ride north. And yet I perceived EVERY flock of geese I saw as flying south.

Which makes me wonder how many other things am I deluding myself with? How many other things am I seeing, hearing, smelling or tasting without really seeing, hearing, smelling or tasting?

Humbling thoughts which illustrate how crazy it is to be alive and aware. And how old dogs can learn new tricks, so long as we don’t dig our heels in like the grumpy old Crankshaft from the funny pages.

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Image is in the public domain from Flickr user Lee Haywood. Available here.

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