Dick's Blog

“Flapping”, Chapter 49 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”, A Free Book

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Next Week, “ Clean as a Whistle”, Chapter 50 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”


Humor is the best medicine. If you look around, you can find funny things all over the place. Birds, like the hawk or owl in the photos, flap to fly, stay cool, attract a mate, or look bigger than they are. We humans instinctively flap for other reasons. Check out his story to find out what makes we humans do a lot of flapping.


As the song goes, “Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let’s do it.” I’m not talking about falling in love. I’m talking about what animals and insects learn to do before they are old enough to make babies. Birds and fleas flap their appendages in unison. The conscious simultaneous flapping of both arms is an unnatural action, undeveloped in humans, because we don’t have enough power in Earth’s gravity to take off or fly. In zero G, given a pair of strap-on wings, we could probably make a little headway, and a whole lot of heat. While floating in water we do pretty well with our arms and hands, although it seems most efficient to use an alternating swimming motion. The exception is the breast stroke or butterfly, the latter being the most unnatural and tiring means of locomotion I’ve ever seen.

So, what would cause humans to flap? The answer is, they do it unconsciously when they are excited, or possibly in imminent danger, when they forget their human conditioning and revert to built-in instinctive responses. Before flying, flapping was a means of heat regulation in prehistoric creatures. Before that, flapping was a means of propulsion in the ancient primordial seas. Birds flap their wings, not only to fly, but to show agitation and to fend off predators. People retain much of their pre-human instincts. These behaviors show up when you least expect them.

Usually, when you see someone flapping, your first thought is to wonder if there is something terribly wrong with this person. My daughter was concerned, when for a period of a few weeks, her young son started flapping his hands at the wrist while being fed, like a baby robin anticipating the worm. Having a background in early child development, my daughter did not see this as cute or humorous behavior since it could signal future developmental problems. Fortunately, my grandson’s flapping went away as fast as it appeared. He was simply very excited about graduating to solid food.

The advent of vocalization and speech also often ends this behavior. Maybe it has to do with the frustration of not being able to communicate. If you see someone you know suddenly engaged in these activities, it’s possibly a sign that something has happened that has left that individual speechless. We’ve all witnessed a person who is being pestered by a yellow jacket, wasp or frenzied cloud of north woods black flies. Just watch their arms and hands beating in unison about their heads. Picture a frustrated child, or adult with clenched fists, at wits’ end or throwing a temper tantrum.

This brings me to some of the best flapping and flapping stories I’ve seen or heard. When my kids were small, we used to drive from Connecticut to visit friends in Ottawa, Canada, early each summer. In the morning I would often venture out for a jog along the banks of the Rideau Canal, which runs through the center of the city. As I rounded one bend I encountered a fellow jogger coming my way flapping his hands on either side of his head. He spoke not a word, would not look me in the eye, but continually turned his head to look back from where he had come, where I was going. Clearly the man was daft or had invented a new exercise for arthritic wrist and neck joints. I proceeded along the path in complete befuddlement until I was whacked soundly on the top of the head. Then another whack, something fluttered in my peripheral vision. I looked around and saw nothing, only to be whacked again. This time I saw the culprit, a red-winged black bird jealously protecting his territory. Up went the hands instinctively, flapping away in unison to discourage the pest and present a moving target. If anybody could have seen me flapping and looking nervously over my shoulder, they would have thought me daft. The flapping came as second nature. I couldn’t think of another appropriate response to this threat. It’s humorous to think one flapper caused another species to start flapping.

Another time, a friend of mine in Vancouver, Canada, was attacked while jogging in a city park by a great horned owl. This caused a flurry of very serious flapping and bleeding. Apparently his shiny bald pate looked like prey to the owl. On his next outing to the park my friend wore a hat adorned with two evil looking eyeballs suspended on coil springs to frighten off his avian enemy.

Then, while hiking in Baxter State Park in Maine, I came across a sign indicating that the trail ahead had been re-routed to protect the nesting ground of a goshawk. These large powerful hawks, the sign pro- claimed, are capable of inflicting severe facial injuries. No argument here, I took the prescribed re-routed trail. Just to be sure, I donned my hiking hat. I still had this almost uncontrollable urge to flap my hands on either side of my head.

Next to that sign in the forest that says, “Warning, Mountain Lions, Please watch your children. If attacked, attack back with all your strength,” they should post a smaller sign, “Warning, Red-winged Black Birds, Great Horned Owls and Goshawks. If attacked, flap both hands simultaneously about your head.” You probably won’t have to be told!

Next Week, “ Clean as a Whistle”, Chapter 50 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”


Dick Sederquist is a retired engineer, engineering consultant, writer, author, hiker, motivational speaker and cancer and depression survivor. Dick suffered an emotional breakdown 35 years ago, realizing that he had been depressed all his life. That started his long journey back to mental health and happiness. Dick writes motivational and inspirational nonfiction short stories and essays for general audiences on many topics including life, family, humor, spirituality, nature, science, his volunteer prison experiences, hiking and travel adventures, depression, overcoming adversity, and what the author refers to as “home improvement”, healing the mind and body we live in. Dick and his wife have been married 50 years; have two grown children and four grandchildren, all part of a close-knit, active, caring and loving family. The whole family believes that the greatest gift in life is helping others.


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Guest Saturday, 17 March 2018