Poor Will's Almanack: December 20 - 26, 2011

Dec 20, 2011

Poor Will's Almanack for the Third Week of Early Winter.

The daughter of a friend of mine came to see me the other day, enquiring about how one might go about studying the natural world.

“Take plenty of notes,” I told her. “Almost everything makes some kind of sense – eventually.”

After she left, I started to question my own advice. I looked through my daybook for notes that seemed trivial, and I decided to consider my observations about camel crickets (Ceuthophilus spp.),a variety of insect easily identified by its large hump.

Checking my notes , I found that I had made 27 entries about the camel crickets between 1998 and 2011. The notations read like this:

January 1, 2005: A sign of good luck for 2005: a camelback cricket in the bathtub when I went to take a shower. I saved it and felt good about that.

February 7, 2001: Camel back cricket found drowned in the dog’s water.

From these and many other observations, I can make some broad generalizations about these creatures. They like bathtubs. They are accident prone.

Searching the web, I found that current university research is not much more complete.

And so what should I have told the daughter of my friend? What does all this say about the natural world? I appeal to the renowned scientist Stephen J. Gould who says it well: that tiny inputs, virtually invisible and risibly impotent in appearance at the outset, can cause history to cascade down any route in a vast array of entirely different pathways.

The lay observer of camel crickets, one might argue, stands at such a vast of array of pathways. Already I can attest that these insects bring on positive feelings of good fortune in humans, that their presence sometimes makes the night seem less lonely and that their occasional visitations can brighten the soul and make the year ahead seem sweet and promising.

Next week on Poor Will's Almanack: notes for the first week of the new year and the first week of Deep Winter.