Sam Adams (perruche_verte) wrote,

Original Goatsucker

Tonight: a great flock, a great aerial squadron of nighthawks in the twilight sky, soaring, circling, diving all together, the sharp eerie "peeet" of their calls bouncing off the roofs and pavement. These birds in late summer were the music of my childhood.

I remember telling a friend in grade school what I'd just learned about them and their strange lives, how they lived on insects they caught in the air like bats do, how some people thought they used the echo of their voice to navigate, how they really weren't hawks at all but another kind of bird called goatsuckers, how they were called that because country people used to think they came and stole milk from nanny goats at night, heaven knows why...

And I think it was about then that he threatened to punch me in the mouth if I didn't "stop making shit up".

This taught me a couple of things. One is that many people absolutely do not believe in anything beyond their own direct experience.

There is some value in that: for one thing, it gives you some protection against the idea that people who are authorities and have written books invariably know more than you, and should always be trusted. For another, it discourages you from thinking that reading something in one, two or three different places is really the same thing as knowing it. This is a disease that affects a lot of people who have read a lot and experienced little. Higher education is plagued with it. People just keep reading each other's bibliographies and get no closer to the truth than they were when they started.

On the other hand, if we refused to take information from other people's experiences, there would be no such thing as learning.

My combative friend not only didn't believe that there was such a thing as a "goatsucker", he didn't believe that anyone could ever have written about such a thing or that I'd ever read anything in a book about it, because he himself had not done so, and would never do so. He really just didn't care. Inexplicably, I did care. I cared about something that might never have any practical value to me in my whole life, and that really bothered him somehow.

That was the other thing I learned: there are many people who will look right at the squadron of nighthawks, soaring, circling, diving after insects with impossible finesse, the harsh music of their cries filling up the summer twilight, and they literally will not see them. They will only see "birds".

We need to feel compassion for such people. We also need to protect ourselves and the natural world from them, because they are very dangerous.
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