Friday, January 25, 2013
I watched the latest episode of the BBC's 'Africa' series last night, with awe and wonder. I don't often have the patience for wildlife programmes; I like ten minutes or so, but after that I find them a bit dull. But this series has been extraordinary.
Two species in particular grabbed my attention with their unexplained behaviour. First the mysterious kingfish, a man-sized hunter inhabiting the waters off the coast of South Africa where the constant pull and buffet of two currents meet. For most of the year they swim alone, solitary predators in the blue expanse. But for just a few weeks each year they gather behind a leader at the mouth of the river, then swim upstream for several miles through the relative calm of river waters.
At an unknown signal their pattern suddenly changes: instead of swimming upstream, they begin to circle. Slowly, majestically, nose to tail and several fish deep and wide (it looks like around 150 fish together), they create a huge loop of shining scales, the sun glistening on their wet bodies at each revolution.
David Attenborough's commentary was perfection. Admitting that biologists have no idea why they do this, he spoke of an annual 'pilgrimage' - and indeed, this is what it most resembled: Muslim pilgrims at the Hajj, the devout body of worshippers creating a vortex of faith as each believer completes his seven-lap encircling of the Kaaba.
Fish with faith? No, I'm not really suggesting that. But these creatures are not swarming and swimming to breed, nor to hunt. There may be a reason yet to find. But at the moment it looks as though it's...just because.
The 'just because' theory seemed also to fit the behaviour of the Springbok. Africa showed these delightful, spindle-legged creatures leaping and bucking in slow motion (it's called 'pronking': an ugly name for a beautiful - if ridiculous - action). They weren't being threatened, nor were they attracting a mate - even the youngest amongst them was giving it a go. The sun was out, the flowers had opened and the fresh spring grass was ripe for eating. They live in one of the most beautiful spots on Planet Earth: why wouldn't they leap for joy?
How many times do I do things 'just because'? Just because life is short and the day is beautiful. Just because any effort made is repaid by the elation from joining others in their dance. If fish and antelopes can figure out that life goes better with a few pointless expressions of happiness and community, perhaps I should reconsider priding myself on my 'excellent time management skills' and do more stuff, 'just because'. Blogging may be included.