The Art of Flying, and Living

It's called a "murmuration of starlings" — the marvelous flight pattern of 10,000 or more of these often maligned birds. Or, as poet Richard Wilbur wrote, “ a drunken fingerprint across the sky,” smudging the dusk horizon with the quickness of a pulsating jellyfish (via).

And it's baffled mankind for years. 

So Wayne Potts, a biologist at the University of Utah, began making movies of their flocks and analyzing them, frame by frame, to see how each individual bird moved. He found that "a turn ripples through a flock just as a cheerleading wave passes through sports fans at a stadium," and he explained the finding with the name of his theory: the “chorus line hypothesis.”

An individual dancer who waits for her immediate neighbor to move before initiating her kick will be too slow; similarly, a dunlin watches a number of birds around it, not just its nearest neighbors, for cues (via).

These cues come not merely with their eyes, but also through acoustics and perhaps even the use of the "tactile sense of onrushing air from close neighbors to help guide {their} direction."

In short, they don't simply react to their immediate surroundings, they respond and move in accordance to their greater surroundings, to the greater community. Because they listen, holistically, with their eyes, ears, and body.

And in doing so, they remain connected and move and flow and "murmurate" with ease and beauty and grace.

They live in community. 

And they teach us more than a little something about life. How to look beyond the immediate left and right, but beyond, to the greater community, and not just ourselves.

They teach us that when we shift and move and live outside our simple circles, when we consider the community rather than the individual, we (to paraphrase Richard Wilbur) refuse to be caught . . . in the nets and cages of common and simple thought.

But rather, beautifully lost in the greater murmuration of life and living, as we soar and swoop and fly. Free as birds.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Substituting People for Animals  :  On Living