Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The yellow grass mystery

CrowAround here, the cracks in our pavements have recently featured lots of yellow grass. Nearby grass verges, by contrast, look verdant after recent heavy rain. The yellow grass is solely confined to cracks in the pavement along streets. It's weird enough to make you avoid walking on them, as some people already do.

I have noticed it on many streets hereabouts. It's always the same, yellow grass in cracks in the pavement but nowhere else. Interestingly, I have also found a very small number of bits of grass in the pavement which were green. This rules out the idea that it is lack of rain that has caused the grass to fade away. So, do we have a genuine anomaly here?

In fiction, some authors like to tell stories backwards. Sometimes this happens in real life, too. In this particular case, I had already found the solution before I first came across the mystery, I just didn't realise it! The thing is, with my poor memory, it took me a little while to put the clues together. I recalled seeing a man riding what I think was a quad bike, small tractor, or something similar, a few days before I noticed the yellow grass. He was holding a spraying device and applying something to specific patches of pavement. It isn't too much of a stretch to imagine that he was applying herbicide to grass growing in cracks in the pavement.

So what if I had never seen the man on the bike/tractor/whatever/I'm no good at small personal transport vehicles? I might still have been able to deduce that it was a human caused phenomenon by its peculiar distribution. However, I had no idea that people sprayed pavements. Once again, a trivial mystery shows how, through lack of relevant information, something mundane can quite easily be misinterpreted as an anomalous phenomenon.

I had another example of seeing the solution to a mystery before the mystery itself appeared, just the other day. I saw, in my peripheral vision, a mysterious black shape leaping over a tall fence! I turned immediately but saw nothing odd at all - just the fence. I watched for several minutes but nothing more happened. Then I recalled that, moments before, I had observed a crow standing on that very fence at the same position! Again, it's not much of a stretch for the 'black shape' to be the same crow flying off. Had I never seen the crow, I would just have put the experience down to the unreliability of peripheral vision. Or assumed it was a shadow ghost. Or Spring Heeled Jack!

I wonder how often we see the answer to a puzzle before the mystery itself appears, without realising it? It's probably fairly common given that effect usually follows cause. The problem is not paying attention while the cause to a mystery is in progress.

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