For the last several months I’ve had on my tongue’s tip a quote about the importance of preserving mystery, and the poverty of its absence. To wit: on a summer evening, when swallows pluck insects from a pond’s surface, their downwards trajectories display minimalist exactitudes that might have been calculated by a missile interception system. As they rise, however, they put on shows of aerial whimsy, tumbling and cavorting in mid-air like kids in a pickup game of hockey.
It’s impossible to watch this and not imagine that the swallows are, quite simply, having fun. And to translate their aerial curlicues into some slight reproductive benefit somehow cheapens this graceful, beautiful display; so does the attempt to define any fun experienced by the swallows as a subjectivity produced to magnify that reproductive benefit, or some accidental side effect thereof, rather than a property intrinsic to leaping and spinning and dancing.
Of course, such utilitarian explanations to the mystery of evening swallow flights may well be true. But I would prefer to neither know the answer nor press the question with techniques suited for a laboratory rather than a raft. This is, I suppose, a form of ignorance; but mystery is not merely the absence of an answer, but the possibility of many.
Image: Steve Brace