Signs and Wonders

Delia Falconer in the Sydney Review of Books:

In ancient Rome, priests and officials called augurs would look for omens of the future in the weather, the movement of animals (especially animals encountered out of place), or the flights of birds. These days, we’re scrutinising the same things to tell the future, not as signs of the gods’ will but our own actions.

Were the gale-force winds last November simply unseasonal, I heard people asking in the playground, or evidence of global warming? Where are the summer cicadas, my mother asks — she can’t remember hearing any on Sydney’s north shore for years—and why have brush turkeys and rabbits started appearing in her garden?

Scientists are pursuing these questions with more rigour: modern augurs, staring at birds’ intestines, they are trying read both the accumulated past and the future.

More here.