When we were in our twenties, I remember that my sister–let’s call her Monica–would be amazed when her friend Lisa knew things that she didn’t know. They weren’t earth-shattering things, just stuff like spray starch comes from vegetables or dogs are descended from wolves. Anyway, when she would ask Lisa how she knew whatever it was she knew, Lisa would always say, “It’s common knowledge.” This bugged Monica no end.
Monica might have missed out on the common knowledge gene but I was absent the day they assigned our places on the learning curve. I probably didn’t understand the concept and got out of line. Anyway, I got put on the lowest, or the highest, end; it all depends on whether being a slow learner means you have a high or low learning curve. I haven’t figured that out yet. Suffice it to say that things that are obvious to others aren’t to me. For instance, there’s this bird–or a flock of them for all I know–that lives right outside our upstairs hallway window. We’ve lived in our current house for more than five years, and it took me until today to realize why, during the summer months, I always think the phone is ringing in the morning when it isn’t. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stood by the open window and heard the phone ringing in my bedroom. Yet everytime I picked up the phone, all I heard was a dial tone.
Today I realized why nobody is ever on the other end of the telephone line–the phone isn’t ringing. It’s the bird that is ringing–or perfectly imitating our telephone’s ringtone. I had to hand it to the bird; he or she had the sound down pat. I wondered what kind of bird it was. It occurred to me that a good name for the bird would be mockingbird; it was too bad that that name was already taken. Unless. And here’s where the learning curve thing comes in. Maybe, I thought, the bird actually was a mockingbird. Maybe mockingbirds were so named because of their mimicry. A quick search on Wikipedia confirmed my suspicion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mockingbird
I was floored. I always thought that mockingbirds got their name because they were nasty and made fun of other birds. That isn’t as far-fetched as you may think. Animals can be evil just like humans. When we lived at our former house, we had vindictive squirrels. They would sit in the tree outside our house and toss hickory nuts at my husband’s head while he raked leaves. It got so bad that he had to wear our son’s bicycle helmet whenever he raked. So it didn’t seem unlikely that mockingbirds would mock any bird who wasn’t in their cool-bird flock. It turns out, though, that they mock or mimic the songs of other birds, and the sounds of insects, amphibians and telephones. The Wikipedia entry didn’t actually mention telephones, but that’s probably because it’s common knowledge.
I wonder why they don’t also mimic mammals, like people and pets. Maybe they do. Our dog seems to bark more than usual in the summer when the windows are open. Whenever I scold him, he looks at me quizzically. Maybe it’s actually a bird that is barking. What a thought. There’s another bird that wolf-whistles at me every morning and it never fails to lift my spirits. Now I’m thinking that maybe the wolf-whistling bird is a mockingbird who is imitating a construction worker. Who knows? Maybe someone higher, or lower, on the learning curve could tell me. I’m so confused. There’s only one thing I know for sure: starting today, I’m keeping the upstairs hallway window closed.
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