COLUMN: The Musings of A Simple Country Man

Hobie Morris

Flying Higher

By Hobie Morris

Fall: the season of change. Nature is in motion as it prepares its flora and fauna for their intricate often mysterious and complex living journey that continues despite…

This simple country man and his beautiful wife, living in such a cyclical world (sadly becoming less known and appreciated) are continually awestruck by their daily immersion in the sights and sounds of Fall. We feel so blessed to have front row seats to this amazing spectacle until the drapes are drawn and the klieg lights dim- but never go out. Behind nature’s drawn drapes, another show is being prepared for its gala grand opening when the sun begins its journey higher and warmer. We look forward expectantly to nature’s drapes being opened once again.

Among the sounds we love, both now and when the sun is warmer, are those of the Canada Geese. We are saddened in the Fall hearing them honking as great “ Vs “ of them wing southward, pushed by the cold north winds. This annual migration has been going on for millions of years!

Occasionally in the Fall, I’ll hear the geese’s wings flapping as they rapidly fly over me barely above the tree tops. Their incessant honking is louder of course but a Beethoven sonata to my attuned ears. Whatever I am doing, I always stop and watch in admiration.

As Fall’s cold deepens, much greater numbers – some large “Vs” in the hundreds- majestically fly so high you can barely see them – especially on cloudy days. All too quickly their sights and sounds are gone. Our accustomed silence returns.

When I feel “down” in the pits of life, I yearn to fly higher: to do better and be a better person; to rise above the darkness, endless turmoil, and hate. To fly with the geese in their special high and mighty world, I dream.

One fascinating mystery has stymied many since 1953.

A British Mount Everest Team is preparing Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay for their final push to the summit of this unconquered mountain over 29,000 ft. tall. At that height, every breath and step is a painful effort.

George Lowe is a team member shuttling supplies necessary for man’s first conquest of Mount Everest. Lowe pants in the thin air, looks up, and sees an apparition: a goose flying effortlessly over the summit, the “death zone” altitude for humans. The bar-headed goose flies on like it is a “fly in the park”. Seemingly, this goose is migrating through and over the Himalayan Mountains! (Ruppell’s Vultures have flown at altitudes over 37,000 ft.)

Was Lowe’s observation a figment of an oxygen deprived mind? Was New Zealand climber George Lowe hallucinating?

In fact, bar-headed geese have been migrating through the Himalayan Mountains for millions of years, traveling north from India to Mongolia and China to breed. During this time the Himalayas have been growing taller each year, making geese migration a little harder. But evolution has kept up.

George Lowe kept his 1953 goose sighting quiet until 1961. Another New Zealand climber, Lawrence Swan, climbing on Makalu – close to Mount Everest and the world’s fifth highest mountain, recorded hearing, on one April night, the honking of high flying bar-headed geese heading north.

The question remained. How could these geese possibly fly so high and so effortlessly?

Scientific studies have discovered astonishing metabolic tricks that have evolved. Among the reasons: one surprise is that regardless of how high the bar-headed geese fly, their heart beat and wing beats remain essentially the same. Somehow the geese were flying more efficiently: blood temperature lowered and energy was adjusted to keep them going with a third of the oxygen available at sea level. A lower blood temperature helps them pump more oxygen to their muscles by tweaking the blood cells’ ability to bind and release the gas. Also, amazingly these geese are able to temporarily switch off unnecessary activity in parts of their brain or digestive system.

Nature has many surprises doesn’t it! Unfortunately this simple country man hasn’t millions of years to “fly higher”. But maybe I have hope after all thanks to the wisdom of Ben Franklin… and I think I will try hard to follow his advice.

– The best thing to give an enemy is forgiveness.

– to a friend: your ear

– to your child: a good example

– to a father: reverence

– to your mother: conduct that will make her proud

– to yourself: respect

– and to all: charity

Antiquated you say? Timeless I say. We’ll all fly higher and honk in unison if we fly together. Our “V” will be victory.

Hobie Morris is a Brookfield resident and simple country man.

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