Newspaper Archive of
The Catalina Islander
Avalon, California
March 11, 1931     The Catalina Islander
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March 11, 1931

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PAGE FIVE THE CATALINA UGLY LEGS By W. E. Allen Biological Feature Service This morning while preparing to take my plankton (microscopic plants) collection at the end of the Scripps Institution pier, I stepped to the edge to throw some water overboard. Just as I looked down before throwing 1 noticed a loon resting on the surface of the water with legs outstretched like two strands of seaweed trailing behind the bird. I had never noticed before how awkward, ungainly, and ugly these two appendages could ap- pear to be. Not only did they look misshapen and twisted, as though they might have been frightfully injured; they also appeared weak and floppy, with little sign of being useful for any- thing But, like the appearance of many other things which we see in Nature, these appearances were de- ceiving. As I threw the water, those ugly, weak looking legs came into use so fast that the bird was out of sight before the first drops reached the surface of the sea twenty feet be- low me. Indeed, the dive was made so quickly that I did not see the loon go. At one instant it was lazily out- stretched on the surface, in the next instant there was only the swirling sea water to show that something had just been breaking the surface. I have often noticed loons chasing fish when there was ample opportun- ity to see how powerful, efficient, and even graceful their legs can be, so my surprise at the instantaneous dis- appearance was only temporary. I realized at once that a bird which can catch fish five or six .inches long in a race of three or four yards is capable of getting out of sight very quickly by a downward dive through cloudy water. Indeed, when used for the purpose for which they are most fitted (that of driving the loon through the wa- ter), these legs are as graceful and ef ficient looking as anything in Nature. It is only when not in use, or when used for an inept purpose, that they seem to be ugly, weak and deformed. A loon on land is an almost helpless creature, just because its legs have been so highly specialized for swim- ruing that they can no longer be used for walking. This is a rather extreme illustration of the fact that throughout all Nature there is a definite relationship be- tween the appropriate use or con- nection of things and their appear- ances of beauty or efficiency. Yet ()lie of our most C()lnmon experiences is that of hearing some man (or oth- er living thing) ridiculed or con- demned because he does not fit well into the situation in which he is ob- served. Seen under other conditions he might receive equally superficial ap- proval and praise. Some man may be just as incapable of understanding mathematics as a loon is incapable of walking, but he may be a genius at language. He would be just as much admired by linguists as he would be pitied or despise by mathematicians. However, most of us are not so ex- treme in human capacity or Iaek of capacity. For example, I lack certain qualifications for becoming expert at playing golf, although I do fairly well at it now and then. Occasionally I make a stroke so poorly that one might think my arms no better adapted to hitting a ball than a loon's legs to walking. Anyone seeing me then might gain and express a very poor opinion of my efficiency. Ocea- sin oally I make a stroke as well as some expert, and a stranger seeing it might think me a phenomenal player, being as much (or more) mistaken as one who had concluded that I was hopelessly deficient. It would requir,~ several observations to show my abil- ity to be really median. Whether it be narrowly specialized or broadly designed by Nature, it is safe to say that we cannot form a correct opinion of beauty or efficiency of a natural object until we are ac- quainted with its use or performance under natural (or appropriate) condi- tions. --~o--- Catalina Island will give you the "rest of your life"--in whichever sense you choose to take it. xk let this help ke a big year of 1931? Do You realize that the telephone on your desk is a co-worker; full of en- ergy, ready to do big things for you in 1931? That it carri,,s your message to other cities in your own voice? That it bears your personality to other cities? That it leaves your customers feeling that they've talked with you? Are you one of those who plan to let this eager, able helper serve you be- yond mere local and state limits ? It is our aim to make inter-city service just as easy and satisfactory to you as a local call. 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