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The things we can't control or understand
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Sometimes nature seems to go nuts. In fact, it's been happening since the beginning of time. We see evidence in fossil remains of species suddenly gone extinct, in layers of sedimentary rock mysteriously devoid of any life traces, in weather patterns turned erratic fiom eons gone by. We speculate of supernovas and solar flares bombarding the planet with cosmic rays, of comets shifting earth's axis and giant meteorites slamming into its porous surface, of catastrophic earthquakes and devastating volcanic activity.

We've become altogether too aware that this humongous chunk of rock on which we live, and move, and have our being is anything but rock-solid.

We've grown in our appreciation of what native peoples and ancient sages and visionaries have told us all along: all life is intricately interrelated. In fact, far from being a cold dead sphere spinning aimlessly through space in a locked-in orbit around a nuclear reactor, earth is a vital, living organism.

You don't have to invoke evil spirits or look for extra-terrestrials to explain why birds are falling and fish are dying in massive numbers in unrelated places around the world. At the same time, the "scientific" explanations being proposed - often by experts on government pay-roles - appear more and more far-fetched, the more these disturbing phenomena take place.

In fact, some of the reasoning seems just plain silly. Friday's Washington Post carried this report online, highlighting the competition of theories:

"It's death on a wide scale, biblical-type stuffi Millions of spot fish died last week in the Chesapeake Bay; red-winged blackbirds tumbled from the skies by the thousands in Arkansas and Kentucky over the holidays; and tens of thousands of pogies, drum fish, crab and shrimp went belly up last fall in a Louisiana bayou. For an explanation of these mysterious events, some have turned to Scripture or the Mayan calendar, which suggests the world will end in 2012. But wildlife experts say these massive wildlife kills were not the result of a man-made disaster or a spooky sign of the apocalypse. They happen in nature all the time." Here come the experts:

"In Arkansas, state and federal biologists believe sleeping birds likely heard a loud boom in the night and freaked out. In Louisiana, low-oxygen ocean water regularly creeps into the higher-oxygen bayou and suffocates fish and crustaceans. Maryland wildlife biologists are still investigating the deaths of 2 million spot and some drum fish. But they have a theory: These fish are particularly vulnerable to cold and were killed when water temperatures dropped suddenly and sharply in late December.

"The red-winged blackbirds in Arkansas?" the article continues, "were probably asleep when they heard a loud boom from a high- intensity fire-work shrieking through their tree roost. As it happens in such cases, the birds went nuts, said Carol Meteyer, a veterinary pathologist for the National Wildlife Health Center, a division of the U.S. Geological Service.

"'They fly disoriented and crash?' Meteyer said." (Washington Post, 1/7/11)

I can just image hundreds of blackbirds going nuts and crashing all at once - though I don't recall them being that stupid in Hitchcock's famous movie.

And while all the other rationalizations seem, individually, highly credible, what defies comprehension is how so many isolated fatalities seem to have converged, so that the New Year has united so many regions of the planet with what almost seems an orchestrated spectacle of sheer death and dying.

Whether you're talking fish or fowl, beneath the water's surface or in the firmament of heaven, the message is that death will find you where you are.

I wondered why our birds seemed so quiet lately. Even on Thursday when my buddies and I went snowshoeing in the pristine beauty of a Yosemite ridge covered with fresh-fallen snow, the only birds we saw were ravens.

Thursday night, at 10:30 p.m., a stranger walked up and warned of doom. Head covered with a beige scarf, looking and speaking as if from North Africa, this messenger from Allah (or maybe the Watchtower) warned that if we didn't take down our Christmas trees, chastisement would fall from heaven.

She must have heard me complaining at noon mass about some Americans who throw their trees out on the street just a day or two after Christmas.

Or maybe she'd heard that we're taking them down soon and wanted to get the credit for the motive force. Whatever the case, I wanted to ask her what God was trying to communicate in the untimely death of so many winged creatures and fishes beneath the waters. But she turned and walked away.

Yet what I really wanted to ask her - or anybody else, for that matter - is how we can apply the same death-dealing strategies to our pigeons. They? more than any other natural factor, have contributed to the demise of our church. Burning through the metal gutters with their acidic excrement, they have caused the accumulation of rain water which has rotted the 150-year old beams supporting our roof. Maybe the dying of some birds isn't such a disaster, after all. It's not that so many creatures are dying. It's that the ones that plague us most seem just to hang around forever. Our plagues are hardly dying animals, but rather the living of so many we just can't stand.