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Friday, November 11, 2011

Seeking the High Ground in the Valley…

Swan Valley

The summer’s swaying corn is just a memory now; only stubble stipples the barren fields. Perhaps that’s why at the distant reaches of a field a flash of white catches my eye. I turn and am suddenly a witness to mortal combat, a struggle for life and death in the Valley. A hawk has singled out a pigeon, separated it from its flock. The hawk has the advantage of altitude, the high ground, swoops down on its prey. The pigeon slips sideways, escapes the first attack. The hawk’s momentum sweeps it aloft again. A second assault. A second time the pigeon dodges death. Meanwhile, the flock  has frantically circled higher, spiraling upwards, gaining height, seeking safety in altitude. Now aloft high over the scene, the pigeons watch as their comrade escapes the hawk’s final assault and darts into the safety of some cottonwoods. Birds know to seek the high ground when a hawk is prowling around the neighborhood.

On a walk out in the Valley a couple years ago I saw a bald eagle badgering a seagull in the same field. Neither had the high ground and the eagle was more an aggravation than a threat. In mortal warfare the army that holds the high ground always has the advantage. Had the English not been lured from the ridge of Senlac Hill during the Battle of Hastings we wouldn’t have the extra baggage of some nine hundred French words that bullied their way into English (consult the etymologies of “quilt, veal, surgeon, chess,” oh, and  check “baggage,” too, while you’re at it). 

Yes, altitude is all important: take the altimeter, for instance, that invaluable instrument that warns the aircraft pilot how far away he is from making a very hard landing. Perhaps that’s why the World War I flying ace Snoopy time after time has his Sopwith Camel blasted out of the sky by the Baron’s Fokker D-7: the Baron always has the advantage of altitude. Little surprise then (aside from the fact Snoopy’s doghouse has no engine or wings) that the bold little beagle is bested in every “dog”fight; even in cartoon land you can’t teach an old dog new tricks .

You know, I can’t help thinking the life and death conflict I witnessed between the pigeon and hawk might well serve as a kind of metaphor for life in general. As we go about our routines, don’t we try to maintain  the “upper hand” over our daily problems, take the “higher road,” not the lower? Every day we struggle for a few extra wing beats to keep ourselves upright and perpendicular.

Here it is November already, historically the time of the year the Valley experiences its worst floods, and I’m thinking the next few weeks we Valley folks could use all the altitude we can get.

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  1. Yes, 'tis that time of year. Hopefully, the altitude you gained when building the house, due to Mr. Broughton's advice, will spare you yet again. Though, I'm happy to pick you up some of the free sandbags they have offered down the street, if need be.

  2. That advice came from our old next door neighbor, Mr. Herman Zylstra. Herman was our bldg. inspector by proxy. He suggested we add another foot of "altitude" to the foundation here at GA. We took his advice and hopefully one of these years come flood season it will pay off. We have the bags of wood pellets we could use if push comes to shove.

  3. Dang it! I went back & forth between Broughton & Zylstra. Looks like I settled on the wrong one. Well, at least it was good advice.