Sat 18 Aug 2012
“The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth,” wrote the French existentialist Albert Camus. As an existentialist myself, I’ve long believed that if this were a rationally ordered world, it would be much different.
This is true not only in the human world but in the animal world as well. The results can be good or bad — or just ridiculous. Let’s take a look.
Although roof rats sometimes eat birds’ eggs, they can — counter-intuitively — get along with adult birds. Here a scrub jay and a roof rat eat birdseed side by side on my picnic table.
The small, beady eyes of roof rats may make them look malicious, but this little junco feels safe enough to keep on pecking only inches away from one.
In fact, adult birds — such as this towhee — and roof rats are almost indifferent to each other when they both happen upon the same birdseed buffet.
The rats and birds not only share the same scatterings of seeds, they drink from the same birdbath. Because animals have no sense of absurdity, these arrangements no doubt seem perfectly natural to them.
Harder to understand are everyday absurdities in the human world.
Is it: ‘Speed up or be cited’? Or: ‘Slow down or be cited’?
This ambiguous road sign is beside Highway 1 a mile and a half north of Tomales Bay Oyster Company in Marshall. In recent years, signs announcing the ending of various speed limits have been sprouting up along the state highway and county roads in West Marin. Unfortunately, they don’t always say what speed limit is beginning.
It makes sense that the 55 mph limit along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road ends here at Platform Bridge. As the word STOP painted on the pavement makes clear, motorists are approaching a stop sign.
The question is: what’s the speed limit on the other side of the stop sign?
To stay on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, westbound motorists after stopping turn right and cross Platform Bridge; in slightly over a tenth of a mile, they eventually come to a 50 mph speed-limit sign. But what if they continue straight on Platform Bridge Road? They find no speed-limit signs whatsoever. Are unstated speed limits “radar enforced”?
In contrast to the paucity of speed-limit information at Platform Bridge, there’s an over abundance of it a couple of miles east at Four Corners. (Four Corners is the T-intersection where Nicasio Valley Road ends at the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. A ranch road provides the third and fourth corners.)
Most of us would assume that one, if not two, of the three speed-limit signs above is superfluous, especially when they’re all so close together. The excess is basically a distraction from the deer-crossing sign.
Which gets me back to my original assertion: if this were a rationally ordered world, it would be much different.