Friday, March 31, 2006

Recovering from Winter's Crash

Posted by Kirk Mona
This week, an abundance of new sounds appeared at Warner Nature Center. We’ve begun to hear the calls of new spring arrivals such as cardinals, robins, red-winged black birds, Canada geese and sand-hill cranes. We’ve also heard winter residents such as the black-capped chickadee and the American goldfinch as they begin their spring songs.

A new song joined the spring chorus yesterday. It was most unexpected and unwelcome. Though it resembled the sharp loud cherr of an agitated squirrel, it was actually the sound of my computer’s hard drive self-destructing. All of the data stored on it was lost in an instant. I am trying really hard to not feel completely sick about this. I lost a lot of my writing including an entire year's worth of articles I wrote for 2006-2007 issues of the magazine The Interpreter.

Winter is the great hard drive crash of the world. In the cold dim light of winter, everything either slows down or stops completely. As a naturalist, I am amazed by the diversity in nature. This annual sub zero crash is handled in many different ways. Some birds and mammals decide to tough out winter by staying active. If food runs out, this choice can be deadly.

Other animals, most notably birds, migrate south in search of food as winter approaches. This seems a sensible approach but migration for birds isn’t as simple as hopping a jumbo jet to warmer climes. The migration survival rate varies but it can be a low as 30 percent. Flying south is nature’s way of backing up bird data. When the crash of winter comes, the data in the form of the species genetic diversity, has flown south. With failure rates as high as 70 percent I don’t think flying my hard drive south is a good option in the future.

Another back-up in nature is to protect oneself through hibernation. We think of hibernation as a great way to sleep off winter but hibernation is risky as well. A high percentage of small mammals that go into hibernation never make it back out. They perish underground; silent victims of nature.

If staying, migration and hibernation as so dangerous, how can they be considered a successful way for nature to back itself up for winter’s crash? The answer is abundance. Nature provides for the sheer abundance of individuals within a species so that when faced with mortal challenges such as winter, enough will survive to carry on.

Spring is the season of abundance. It is so clear and welcoming to my winter eyes. That abundance is both the key to and the result of nature’s ability to back itself up. I too made a back up a short while before my computer crashed. I copied my most important files onto a disk. It won't be a perfect back up but it is better than nothing. I may have to load those old files onto a new computer, the songs out my window tell me our Minnesota landscape is being reborn as well.

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