Chaos Theory (Or, Loons Count Too)

Chaos Theory

Math is not my strong suit.  I’m okay with that.  God (by whatever name you give the creative force, or by no name if that suits you) left out the “Understands Mathematics” part of my brain during assembly.  I got a double set of “Excels at Reading and Writing” parts instead.

Fortunately, mathematical theories are capable of expression in words, not just numbers and squiggles, which means that I can understand, on a basic level, “Chaos Theory.”  Perhaps better known as the “Butterfly Effect,” the gist of this theory is that events in life are unpredictable and can be influenced by an action as seemingly insignificant as the flap of a butterfly’s wings.  Here, let’s allow the scientists at the non-profit Fractal Foundation (http://fractalfoundation.org) to explain:

Chaos Theory:  Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected. While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on. These phenomena are often described by fractal mathematics, which captures the infinite complexity of nature.

The Butterfly Effect: This effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. 

Full disclosure: I have no idea what “fractal mathematics” means.  I was guessing it had to do with fractions – as in 3/4ths of a cup of sugar, that sort of thing.  Not so.  Look it up yourself if you must know; they lost me halfway through the first sentence.  (That’s a partial lie, but I maintain the right to use the “Dumb Blond” card to my advantage whenever it suits me.)

Loons Count Too

Today was the 33rd year that volunteers across the state took a unified stab at counting Maine’s loon population.  Organized by Maine Audubon, loon counters spend half an hour on the third Saturday of July counting loons on an assigned section of lake or pond.  This year over 900 volunteers participated in the annual loon count, which took a snapshot of the loon population as seen between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m.  My husband and I were on stand-by in case any of the volunteers covering Annabessacook Lake had to bail at the last moment.  Having not received a call by late Friday evening, I was rather certain we wouldn’t be counting loons.

We did go on a boat ride Friday after dinner, however, and ended up performing an unplanned loon count when we happened upon first a group of twelve loons, then a single loon, then a mother with two chicks and finally a mother with one chick.  While math is not my strong suit, I can do basic addition, so a quick tally brings us to 18 loons on Friday evening.  I have no doubt there were others we didn’t see, since we did not cover the entire lake on our boat ride.   I’ll be eager to find out how many loons were tallied as present on the lake as part of the annual loon count.

Chaos Theory + Loons Count Too = So What?

 So here’s the thing: none of us know how the story will end.  Maybe your story will last for another five decades, or five years, or five minutes.  And maybe what you did, or did not do, today will make a difference in that equation.  And there are times when we get tangled up in thickets and think we won’t make it out of the forest.  Then we hit those sweet spells when nothing breaks, nobody skins a knee, and the sun just keeps shining.  Hallelujah, hallelujah, an angel chorus hums in our hearts.

Still, most days are not like this, they are just regular days.  And lately if we can get through a day without a horrific tragedy at home or abroad it seems we are doing well. What responsibility could we possibly have to others then, beyond our nearest kith and kin, to help them thrive in the game of life?  When the world has gone mad, shouldn’t we run and hide?

I do not think we can allow this to be an option.  Sure, take cover from time to time, that you might rest, recharge, resurge renewed.  But do not go away.   The world needs you.  You cannot know how that wing flap will change your life; that being the case, you must march on, march on, march on.

Whether you are counting loons, rubbing dirt from scraped knees, giving a sermon, filling a gas tank, shuffling papers, saving lives, it all matters.  And in matters of the environment, we must look to ourselves to take meaningful action.  If we do not, who else will?  Put down your Pokémon Go and find ways to volunteer in your community, even if you only have a few hours of time to donate each year.  Go on – the loons will thank you.

For more information on Maine Audubon’s Annual Loon Count, or other ways to take action for wildlife, go to http://maineaudubon.org/about/citizen-science/.

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