Editor’s Note: The Quackers are three awesome ducks — Rusty, Richard and Sydney — from the canals of Venice who are on a mission to educate the community about the dangers of global warming and the importance of practicing sustainability, all while surfing the most gnarly waves possible.

It must have been strange, maybe even a little scary. It was late and the sky was so dark that New Year’s Eve. It would have been easy to see the mysterious moving lights. They were out there, past the shoreline, three distinct bright spots of light.

It was eerie. The lights bobbed rhythmically, up and down, as if they were sitting on the water. A pattern developed. At intervals the lights appeared to rise and with great speed hurtle themselves toward the shore where they would momentarily disappear only to pop up again a short time bobbing off shore. Time after time this odd pattern repeated until shortly after midnight when the lights stopped as mysteriously as they had started.

We had just climbed up the hill from the beach when we heard the people talking about some lights they had seen. Their eyes were wide and they were saying, “There must be a logical explanation! It is probably some sort of weather phenomenon! Maybe it was a really large, concentrated red tide?” One lady said, “It was UFOs, I’m sure!” We just shrugged and finished packing up our gear and took off for home.

It was the next morning when it finally dawned on us. The crowd at the beach had been talking about us! 

We had decided this year to surf while everyone else rang in the new year. It was not without its challenges. Once we headed out to Dockweiler beach, donned our party hats and strapped on our miner’s head lamps it turned out totally awesome.

2010. The year of the tiger. Rusty watched an old “Rocky” movie on late night TV and decided “Eye of the Tiger,” was the perfect song to welcome in the new year. I can’t tell you how tired Richard and I were of hearing him sing it. He would not give it a rest.  We covered our ears and hummed other songs. It didn’t help. Finally, we asked him to at least change the words to “year of the tiger.” His answer to that was to belt out his version of the song, “Went the distance, now I’m not gonna stop, just a duck and a will to survive … eye of the tiger,” roll his eyes and leave the room. 

Once we figured out that we were the mysterious lights, we did have to wonder about those people, just a little. Even though they were up on the highway they must have heard Rusty at midnight when he roared and then sang “Eye of the Tiger” at the top of his lungs. How could they have missed Richard and me when we slid down the face of that perfect 4 footer holding sparklers and yelling “Happy New Year!” UFOs, come on! I think someone had just a tad too much sparkling apple juice.   

Our New Year’s Day was a quiet one. Between football games, I did a little sketching while Rusty and Richard worked on the garden. It was all quite and peaceful until Rusty boomed out, “Richard! Come see, a really big bird ‘bombed’ your Rue plant! It’s gross.”

Richard became excited. It wasn’t a bird “bomb.”  It was a yellow swallowtail caterpillar. He explained that in its larval stage this caterpillar mimics the appearance of bird poop to keep predators from feasting on it. 

Examining several more plants Richard was elated to discover several more caterpillars. Rusty and I could not keep from laughing when Richard sighed and said, “I am going to be a butterfly daddy soon.” 

Seeing the caterpillars reminded Richard of an article he had just read about “biomimicry.” He said many scientists and inventors are looking to the natural world to help them create better and more sustainable products, as well as find solutions to some of our most vexing problems.

According to Richard, wonderful things have already taken place by using biomimicry. In Japan and China, scientists are modeling more efficient solar cells after the scales of butterfly wings, which serve as highly effective, microscopic solar collectors.

In Zimbabwe, Richard said, architects were able to design a passive cooling system for a large office building without using any modern heating or air conditioning by studying African termites.

Richard said there were many more examples and then told us something we had never thought about.  He said that living organisms have been conducting their own research and development program for about 3.8 billion years. They have tested and solved many of the challenges that humans are facing today so it is imperative that we do everything possible to preserve and learn from our natural world and wildlife. We don’t know which one may be the solution for the next insurmountable problem. It could even be that caterpillar that looks like bird poop!

Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at phyllis@phyllischavez.com. The Quackers have a new, amazing Web site! Stories, pictures and a blog at www.thequackers.com.  

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