There are decorative trees in front of a North Shore office building. The kind with little red berries. A bunch of birds found them and are chomping away.
You happen to know they’re Cedar Waxwings, a shy species, gray, with crests and some yellow trim. You’re alone in the car, reluctant to go to an appointment.
So the birds grab you. Then, bam! All take off, a cloud of flapping wings swirls upward. A flock! Whose idea was it to take off? To circle around, then come back? Why did the others follow that first guy? Was there even a first guy? Maybe the flock itself is the guy. Flocks behave like they have one nervous system. Science has studied this and come away scratching its itchy scalp.
You watch as the flock returns, resuming the berry-eating. Individuals again. But you know they’re capable of losing individuality and joining a mindless mystery: a flock. You leave your car with a sigh.
The unsettling thought hits. Isn’t this big building really just a flock of people?
This column was adapted by Mike Lubow from his book: Wild Notes: Observations over time about birds and other fleeting things. Available on amazon.com.