The Ouzel in the Creek

Water Ouzel

The other day, on my way to work in Geneva, I saw my first ouzel. Also known as a dipper, it’s a cocky black bird with a white chest, that lives along mountain streams; it’s the only songbird that can fly (and walk) underwater. This one was perched on a boulder in the little creek that is the border between France and Switzerland, between the villages of Gaillard and Villette.

I’m not sure the ouzel knew it was straddling two different countries. It may know songbirds are disappearing across Europe – at least, it may be finding it harder to find a mate or rear a brood. It got me thinking about the impact of the current financial crisis on the ecosystems of the world. Stockmarkets strike me as a way of letting a chaotic system determine our future. By definition, they are unpredictable, like rapidly flowing water breaking into eddies and whirlpools. The ouzel has evolved to live and feed in such water, but the bird has emergent properties (a capacity to process information, for example) that the creek doesn’t have.

It doesn’t make sense to entrust things we value highly (like life, in all its forms) to such unpredictable processes. Market forces have failed  to ensure our own safety, let alone our children’s future. Perhaps we need a new system, to emerge from a new Bretton Woods. The ouzel lives in a sensitive balance with flowing mountain streams. There may be a wisdom in the bird, an echo of a universal law of balance and reciprocity. We may need to remember that every human decision involves economic, social and environmental consequences – and we pay for them all.

Moy Hitchen

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