Perhaps to complement the recent moon ring (see earlier post), a phenomenon known as a light pillar greeted us moments before sunrise yesterday. A few thousand years ago such a beam might have caused people to exclaim that a supernatural force or deity was sending a message (i.e., "You're all doomed" or "Hey, I finally found the flashlight!"). Nowadays we know it's just ice crystals in the atmosphere refracting sunlight. I wonder if the course of modern human history might have been different if we'd known that for the last 5,000 years.
They're back! The playful foxes, that is. Perhaps interpreting the light pillar as the signal to resume their series of wrestling matches, they put on another show in the snow.
SWAN SONG FOR LAME DUCKS?
The above headline appeared the other day on an AOL story about outgoing members of Congress gathering for the final time. Like the famous New York Post headline about the discovery of a murder victim ("Headless Body In Topless Bar"), this one used humor to lure readers into a grisly subject (politics). But it also made the naturalist and writer in me wonder: Where exactly did the terms "swan song" and "lame duck" come from?
Turns out there was once a belief that a type of swan called the mute swan remained silent until it was dying, at which point it sang (cooed? honked? rapped?) a song. Sort of an avian version of the opera-and-sports cliché, "It ain't over until the fat lady sings." Of course, mute swans don't remain silent all their lives—they grunt, whistle and snort at their young, much like the fathers portrayed in Fox TV sitcoms. And they don't shuffle off this mortal coil with a closing number.
As for the term "lame duck," it was coined in Britain the 1700s to describe brokers who couldn't pay their debts. Not until the next century was it applied to politicians who have been voted out of office.
And only this fall has it described politicians voted out of office in part because brokers (and bankers) couldn't pay their debts.
One final thought: Did anyone in the audience at an opera (I'm envisioning an unshaven ex-linebacker type who snuck a beer into the theater) ever lean over to his seat mate (similar description) at a critical juncture in the performance and whisper, "It ain't over until the fat lady sings"? Or is that just a New Yorker cartoon waiting to happen?