Thursday, April 5, 2007
Sometimes bean-counting is a necessity. In my former life as a science administrator my colleagues and I were required to count beans regularly. It started shortly after the new chief said he was going to get the scientists under control, and bean-counting became a job priority. We reported commonplace things that had been happening for years, and were reminded monthly to submit our reports to the bean-counting directorate. It was "busywork", and bean-counting became a critical factor in our annual performance evaluations.
Recently I drew upon my store of bean-counting expertise. A year and a half ago I had noticed small dusty patches near my house. I thought I had a problem -- erosion. Then I observed that each bare area had a few bunny beans mixed in the dirt. So I did what came naturally. I sorted the beans by age and counted them.
Two days later I returned and counted them again. The numbers had changed, and the fresh beans had increased in number! (The bean-counting directorate would have been pleased.)
Next, I set a camera trap. A week later I viewed the pictures and learned that the only visitors were black-tailed jackrabbits.
Each night one or more rabbits visited the bare patch, where they hung around and sniffed the ground for a few minutes at a time.
I didn’t get any pictures of the rabbits rolling around in the dust, so we can't call these places wallows. And so far I haven't found any references to jackrabbits counting beans.
As for the supreme bean counter back at the Smithsonian, a recent audit showed that he indulged in rather questionable bean-counting practices himself, and he decided to move on.