03 October 2010

A Walk in the Woods

When I need to get some really good thinking done, I've learned that there's nothing better for me than to relax and avoid thinking at all for a while. My brain is so glad for the brief holiday that it returns to work with renewed vigour, and accomplishes things as though it was working diligently the whole time I wasn't communicating with it.

There are few places where I can really get into this state—the shower is one that I have in common with many others, but a shower can reasonably be only so long for a number of reasons. Another good place is graveyards: the dead tend to be pretty accommodating hosts when it comes to quiet thinkers.

But I think the best place for me is the woods. Going for a long walk in the woods, trying in vain to confound my irritatingly accurate sense of direction, and getting some exercise are all great things, but they're even better when I get to go for a walk with the deer.

Yes, you read that right. The area around RIT is swarming with deer. On a recent late-night walk, I saw no fewer than a dozen by the side of the road, and that's no exaggeration. So it came as little surprise to me this evening when I ran into a couple of does in the forest.

Now, RIT deer are fairly docile. You'll never get them to eat out of your hand, but they won't spook if you're reasonably nice to them. Usually announcing your presence in a soothing voice and talking to them occasionally is enough to dispel their fears and let you get as close as five feet from them. One was still young and the other fully grown, and the fawn was noticeably more skittish than the adult, so kept her distance more.

I was able to walk with them for quite some time before they decided it'd be a good idea to cross a stream, and, clad in sneakers as I was, I wasn't prepared to slog through ankle-deep mud and knee-deep water. So I made my way through the dry part of the swamp to a hillock where I read Dracula and watched the sunset.

Why am I telling you all of this? What does this have to do with programming or linguistics? Not much, really, but it is kinda nice, and people like stuff like that. And anyway, it got me thinking about the universality of expression, which is something we humans seem to not just take for granted, but often entirely ignore. An animal can understand your intent and your emotions even if it can't grasp the meaning behind what you're saying. Hell, a human can, too; we're not immune. Tone of voice and body language are enormously important, and yet we seem to always get lost in the intricacies of verbalisation.

We should probably just relax and eat some acorns.