Balancing the Dominoes



Everybody knows about the domino effect.

According to The Free Dictionary, “A domino effect or chain reaction is the cumulative effect produced when one event sets off a chain of similar events.”

Sometimes it describes the unintended consequences of a single, innocent act. Consider the kindly store owner who gives unattended children in her store a double shot of espresso and a free puppy. On the child’s return home many interesting and unintended consequences may occur in rapid succession. That’s the domino effect.

In politics, the domino theory predicts that a political event in one country will cause similar events in a neighboring country. Some people say that’s why wars were invented to prevent the spread of communism across Southeast Asia back in mid-twentieth century.

But my favorite example of the domino effect is simply… a line of dominoes.

People with absolutely nothing at all to do with their lives have spent countless hours lining up dominoes like endless rows of tiny wooden soldiers, as many as 250,000 to 300,000 of the things, and then simply knocked over domino number 1. The 3 or 4 ensuing minutes of clicking and clacking are fascinating to watch while all that work undoes itself like a miniature train wreck.

A balancing act is like a line of dominoes. Anything precariously balanced can topple into chaos with the slightest nudge. Consider the alpine avalanche triggered by the feather-light touch of just one more snowflake. Or think about Philippe Petit, French tight-rope artist who pranced along a high-wire stretched between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers one fine summer morning in 1974. Now that’s a finely balanced system you wouldn’t dare perturb.

Dominoes and balancing acts came together recently when naturalists and forest rangers discovered that killing all the wolves in the finely balanced ecosystem of a National Forest in the American west triggered a tragic domino effect.

Killing all the wolves caused devastating floods.

Here’s how. Without wolves, the deer and the antelope multiplied. They ate all the grass off the meadows and river banks. Without the grass, the river filled too fast in the rain and washed away its banks. Wild waters then flooded downstream into the valleys and forests. Dead wolves caused deadly floods.

Nature is full of finely balanced ecosystems rich in dominoes. The good news is that, given a little relief from the constant, well intentioned – and sometimes not so well intentioned – interference of humans, nature can often right itself… because it is alive. Like the human body, recovery from most illnesses can be natural and vigorous.

So, this week please accept the Jamestown Gazette’s introduction to meet our living Lake Chautauqua. It is a beautiful and complicated thing, not an inanimate object to be sculpted and hewn into shapes we want. We need to be partners in its wellbeing to enjoy its life.

We must not be its slave master, ignorant of its needs in search only of the pleasures we can take from it. Let’s be thankful, instead, for the stewards we introduce you to this week on page 1, into whose hands we’ve placed its care.

If dead wolves can cause floods, what can injured lakes cause? Let’s not find out.

Enjoy our living lake.

And as always, enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut
The Jamestown Gazette

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.