Living with a pet is usually a pleasure, but now and again, it isn't. Fate hands you the wrong animal, but it's your animal, so what can you do? You try to love it. This tale of a boy and his parrot is a hard case. Even on its way to parrot heaven, it creates trouble.
Passenger pigeons went. Dodos went. Buffalo nearly went. But here's the surprise. Three of the weediest, everywhere-ist animals we know (the common pigeon, the white-tailed deer and Canada geese) — they almost went too! Everything, it turns out, is fragile.
There they are, up on the power line, side by side by side by side by side. Starlings, each one like the other — rubber-stamped birds, a mob (or murmuration) of indecipherably similar critters, always the same, sitting or flying. But wait! What if there's such a thing as an Exceptional Starling? I think I've found one (or maybe ... four!), hiding in a video.
It's been there for thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years — a huge, solid, endless mass of white ice. Then, all of sudden ("It's starting, Adam," says an onlooker) there's a crack, then another, and whoosh, an immense field vanishes — splits, splits again, and right before your eyes (you've got to see this) sinks into the sea. This is how ice leaves our planet.
Alice had this problem when she went through the looking glass: You start in a known place. You advance, step by steady step. Nothing is amiss, nothing misplaced. But when you land, everything has turned totally weird. Nothing makes sense. All you can do is go, "Huh?" Let's "Huh?" together.
It's getting close to Super Bowl time, so here's a little fantasy. What would happen if a British sports announcer who has no idea how American football works (not a clue) were suddenly thrown on the air and had to do play-by-play for a game between Alabama and Notre Dame? He knows nothing. What would he say?
There are no moose in America, said the French count to Thomas Jefferson. They don't exist there. Americans see a reindeer and just call it a new name, saying it's bigger. But the only thing that's big here is your American imagination. Jefferson was incensed. You are an ignoramus, he said tactfully. Then he promised to deliver an American moose to Paris. Here's what happened next.
Something happened to dolphins. Then it happened to humans. Both creatures had good-sized brains when, for reasons no one truly understands, dolphin brains suddenly got larger and larger, until — 15 million years ago — they stopped growing. Two million years ago it was our turn. Our brains went from the size of an orange to the size of a cantaloupe. Why the start? Why the stop? Who's next?
Come to a place where peppers are so hot, fire trucks come to douse them. Pomegranates explode like grenades there, spaghetti threatens innocent sailors, and the moon is made of cinnamon. Two French food photographers imagine all this, and then let a polar bear water-ski through a plate of marshmallows.
This is a "Which came first?" riddle. Not chicken vs. egg. This one is about rain forests. When rain forests begin, do they start with rain ("Yes!" say I) or trees ("No! That's ridiculous!" say I)? I should warn you: Sometimes nature has a sense of humor.
You've heard it a thousand times, maybe 10,000. Is there any way to make "The Star-Spangled Banner" fresh? Even fascinating? There is (Jimi Hendrix aside). Here is a new one that did it for me — the Jon Batiste version.
What are the odds that you will die this year? Whatever they are, the mortality tables suggest those odds will double eight years from now. Death, apparently, moves closer at a curiously regular pace. Why this eight-year progression? Is it something biological? Random? What is it about eight that attracts the Grim Reaper? Let's ask.
There you are in a train station, and if you stand in the right space, suddenly an angel — a lady with enormous wings, looking like the real deal — appears at your side. She's not real. She's a billboard display gone wild. Which is what a bunch of billboards have been doing lately. We visit three of the wildest.
They leap into the air, adjust their tails, land headfirst in the snow, burrow down and hit a teeny moving target — buried three feet below. It's their lunch. How does a fox catch a mouse in winter? This is amazing.
They're little flatworms that glide along riverbeds and perform miracles. Chop off their tails, they grow them back. Split them in half, they grow whole again. But chop off their heads, and not only do they grow new heads, but those new heads contain old memories! Whoa!
This isn't science. Not today. It's art — in this case, the sly performance of a young comedian who is accosted backstage by not-so-nice "fans." But he gets free (wait for this, it comes a few minutes in) by using his pointer finger. I was enchanted.
First I look in my right coat pocket. Nothing. Then my left. Nothing. Then my pants, right side — no. Then my pants, left side — yes! This is me at my front door, looking for my keys. Every day.
I'm going to play you a sound that you hear all the time. But this time, instead of hearing it in context (in a familiar setting — the movies, an Xbox, on TV, in a phone), it's all alone. Naked. Will you be able to identify it?
I'm thinking of a man and his cat. A real man. His real cat. Then I'm imagining a bunch of world-famous cartoonists, Calvin & Hobbes' Bill Watterson, Wile E. Coyote's Chuck Jones, Gary Larson, Maurice Sendak — all of them drawing this same man and his cat. Then I'm staring at very different men and very different cats. Then I'm giggling.
You order a lobster and the waiter shows you an animal that is, he says, older than you are. It's had more birthdays than you. For some people, this is a meal-stopper. Especially, if you are on in years, and what's on the plate is just as elderly (and just as wise?) as you are.