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Gaining perspective

by Rick Bernico, Photo editor emeritus


Have you ever watched a bird in a cage just sitting on its perch without a care in the world? Have you ever wondered how the poor thing could stand being “trapped” in its personal prison for its entire live?

I have. I know that if I were that little bird I would do everything in my power to get out of that cage and fly off into the vast and free outdoors.

Can you imagine a four-inch long parakeet lurking in the corner of its cage just waiting for an opportune moment to make a “mad dash” for the open cage door …

Only to fly into a shut window?

Or through the open window into the wild blue yonder only to be pounced upon by a hungry cat?

What I learned about caged birds born and raised in captivity, possibly handraised by an avid avian enthusiast, is that their cages are their homes, their security—their sanctuary. They do not know anything else except their cages and their ways of life.

In a sense, they are similar to the Cubans under Fidel Castro or the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein—only without the torture and the oppression, of course.

This brings to mind one of my first experiences with “perspective” many years ago. I was a relatively young man in the Navy stationed in San Diego. When Naval ships are moored next to a pier, a spotlight is always positioned to illuminate the egress to the ship and invariably, the light shines on the surface of the water between the ship and the pier.

After passing to and from ships some 147,286 times, I finally took notice of the life and death struggles that took place every night. Swimming at the surface of the water, in a seemingly futile attempt to stay alive, were dozens of small fish hastily darting back and forth in a panicked frenzy. It appeared that the light provided a small amount of protection for the little fish in that the larger fish shied away from the surface.

But every once in a while a daring larger fish would gather the courage and the gumption to streak to the surface in an attempt to prey upon the terrorized smaller fish.

I guess hunger and good seafood can overcome many fears. And this happened every night next to every moored Naval ship presumably around the world. These little fishes lived in perpetual fear until they grew up—if they grew up—to be large enough to terrorize smaller fish.

What a life! And I noticed that none of the little fish ever combined forces with any other little fish to fight off the terror facing them every night. They all seemed resigned to whatever fate awaited them and, more notably, they seem unconcerned about the fate of the other little fish around them. They were only concerned about themselves. “Please the bigger fish first, and maybe you won’t be hungry enough to eat me too.”

On the other end of the spectrum, just a few years ago, I was doing some work near a stream and once again “perspective” slapped me across the face. I noticed hundreds of little fish swimming around without a care in the world. They would “hang out” in little groups, peck at algae and essentially do nothing all day long.

I thought to myself, “How boring! I would never want to live life like that. No television, no restaurants,no school...oops, maybe schools, entertainment, no sports, nothing. But at least they weren’t being EATEN!”

Then it hit me. All the food they could possibly desire, companionship, peace, tranquility, and no predators. This little stream was almost like fishy heaven to them. Maybe they were good fishies in a previous life and this was their reward.

A few weeks later, I returned to the stream only to find out that all the little fish were gone.

Apparently, the recent rains had caused the stream to flood and all the little fish were swept away to whatever doom awaited them.

I don’t know what it is about fish and birds that fascinate me so much. Perhaps they are subconscious metaphors for the life and struggles of “little people oppressed by strong, tyrannical bullies.” Perhaps they represent an ideology of resignation and oppression that will eventually be swept away by a more powerful, evil force.

Perhaps I just like fish.

I know I like seafood.



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