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The danger of acting like a duck

Last week, a wood duck whooshed through the yard at forty miles-per-hour and wove through the thick woods without hitting a tree. 

One of the latest extreme human sports is wing-suiting, where idiots with nothing better to do jump off a cliff wearing an outfit that makes them float like a flying squirrel. 

As they fall towards the base of the cliff, their goal is to catch some air and swoop between the trees down the side of the mountain. Just like a wood duck. 

One mistake and they go splat. 

After they go splat, some poor rescue squad with better things to do has to risk their lives to untangle the saps from the upper branches of a 100-foot spruce. 

Wood ducks go wing-suiting every day and nobody thinks anything of it. I have never yet heard of a wood duck going splat. 

Humans make fools of themselves when they imitate mountain goats, wood ducks, spiders, dolphins and other talented wildlife. 

We also show our self-centeredness when we fail to appreciate the amazing talents of animals when they are just being animals. 

No, most humans don't get amazed by animals until a critter does something human like talk, as some parrots do; roll over or shake hands, as some dogs do; act stuck up, as most cats do, or come when called, as cows, horses, pigs and sheep do. 

In other words, we don't notice animals until they imitate some stupid human-like task that is utterly unnatural and completely beneath them. 

Teach an animal some stupid human trick and they'll end up on the Tonight Show, which a whole lot more people watch than Animal Planet. 

When an animal shows an amazing talent that is part of its natural purpose, like flying through the woods at forty miles-per-hour without hitting a tree, we get jealous and try to do it ourselves!

The other day, I watched a fat gray squirrel run out to the end of a high branch, which bent down under her weight, and leap to grab a branch on the next tree, four feet away.  

The slightest error would have meant a fall of sixty feet. I am not going to try it, but it's just another day in the life of a squirrel.

The greasy swallows aren't anybody's favorite bird, but watching them dart through the air is a wonder. They skim the lawn at two inches altitude, nabbing a half-dozen mosquitoes with every pass.

As they swoop around for another pass, the swallows maneuver like a stunt plane on fast-forward.  

Science says they are just trying to survive, but watching the swallows show off makes me think they are just having fun with their acrobatic abilities. 

The swans have been sitting on their nest for three weeks now. No sign of little ones yet, but you have to admire their complete and total patience with the most boring task in the world. 

With no books to read, no television, no knitting, mama swan, with some help from papa, somehow survives the nesting period without going bonkers. The only humans to replicate her feat are Buddhist monks. 

Our cumbersome human brains enable us to complete crossword puzzles and build skyscrapers, but we lack the focus, and therefore the genius, of animals, whose brains allow them to do a few things very well. 

What if we used our brains efficiently? What if we were able to focus on one task and work as diligently as a sparrow building its nest? 

Some humans have. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin and other great thinkers never seemed to shut off their creative juices. Monumental discoveries and achievements stacked up throughout their lives. 

However, some ultra-focused humans have been a disaster. 

If you measure a leader by his accomplishments for good or ill, Josef Stalin was a genius. Historians to this day are trying to understand the depth of his sheer talent for evil. 

  He ruled through sheer terror, brilliantly applied. He won a devastating war. He transformed an entire economy. He held power for decades in a cut-throat culture of revolutionaries. And he killed tens of millions. 

The risk of humans focusing their brains like animals do is high. 

Maybe it is better that most of us waste our brains on mindless activities like watching baseball. 

After all, when focused but misguided human daredevils try to act like animals, they often go splat.