Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Escher of Squirrels

I am etymologically confused.

A squirrel’s nest is called a “drey” (with an “e’)– although I suspect most of us just call it a nest. A group of squirrels is called a “dray” (with an “a”) – or, alternatively a “scurry”. Most of us would designate such a gathering as a bunch. I myself would dub them an “escher” – based upon the behavior of the most recent octet of Sciuridae Sciurus that inhabit our native suburban wild animal refuge.

The derivation of the word dray (or drey) has something to do with carts without wheels, and nothing to do with tree rats. But “scurry” does make some sense. According to my IMac’s dictionary, as a verb scurry means “move hurriedly with short quick steps” and as a noun “a situation of hurried and confused movement”. And scurrying is what a squirrel does when it moves across my yard to/from the front border oak tree that is the entrance/exit ramp for the elevated superhighway of branches and wires that the little gray rodents traverse on their various individual commutes throughout the day. But they only seem to scurry when they are traveling alone.

In a group setting the little tree-critters move fluidly and confidently – like a live, light gray, furry M.C. Escher drawing.
(Click photo to enlarge)

Maurits Cornelis Escher is perhaps the world’s most recognizable graphic artist – best known for his morphing tessellations and “impossible structures” that fool the viewer’s eye.

A tessellation consists of a shape repeated over and over on a single plane without any gaps or overlaps. “Previously, tessellations were created with rather simple shapes. Escher distorted and manipulated these simple shapes to resemble things such as various animals. In his “Metamorphoses” series, the tessellations “morph” into changing shapes or even leave the plane such as in Reptiles. In this lithograph, reptiles seem to be following a continuous cycle in which they “enter” an image of a drawing of a tessellation and then come out of the drawing, walking back around it to the same entrance point.” (NBMMA)
(Click photo to enlarge)

And this explanation is actually less confusing than the drawings themselves. So try this. Escher creates impossible objects – 2-dimensional illustrations that could not actually be constructed in three dimensions.

The squirrels, when performing en masse, move in a continuous nose-to-tail cycle across the lawn, and up and down the trees – abruptly changing direction in perfect unison through a series of rapid-fire, gravity-defying maneuvers impossible to execute in three dimensions, and equally difficult to illustrate in two – a hyperactive tessellation.

In other words, an escher.

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