The poet Carl Sandburg wrote that “arithmetic is where numbers fly in and out of your head like birds”. If that’s the case, I thought maybe I’d see about trapping me a few, growing them out, trying and raise my own flock of numbers. When I grow my own, I become that much more self-sufficient.
Growing your own numbers is ideal for the beginning do-it-yourselfer. Numbers are compact and various. They are troubled by few predators and require little, if any, maintenance. There’s no evidence of numbers shrinking or expanding in extreme temperatures. Nor are they known to settle in shipping. Numbers aren’t prone to repetitive-use injuries. They neither hibernate nor go dormant, and are fertile 12 months of the year.
Millennia of observation in the wild suggest that numbers, overall, are docile and easy to handle. All numbers will come when called, although more than a few of them have names that would take longer than the estimated age of the universe to say. Ease of calling is the reason most growers cite for giving their numbers nicknames.
A number will always roost in the same spot—on an imaginary piece of string known as a numberline. This string is without width or depth, as are the numbers, which line themselves up along its length in order of their size. As long as there are no gaps when everyone’s up on the roost, you know they are all there.
On the rare occasions when a number does go missing, it can always be found by counting to it. Many growers count by 2s or 100s or gazillions or Xs or whatever works to land exactly on the number before the sun burns out.
No one has yet succeeded in raising a full flock of numbers in captivity, so questions do remain about housing. How long a piece of numberline string must you get to hold the entire flock? And will you need a pickup to get it home? How much room does it take up when it is rolled tight? What about when it’s fluffed? Can you see to the other side when you look through it? Number growers are encouraged to participate in networks and newsgroups to help one another sort these things out.
Fortunately for the novice number grower, it’s not hard to start a flock when we live in a day and age where numbers are just about everywhere for the taking. They course through the air, and can be written down with tens and elevens, tally marks, cuneiforms, or hieroglyphics. You can find them in libraries and stores, on the insides of wires and bathroom stalls, anywhere they have logarithms and divide-by-two. Think locally—educate yourself about the most commonly used numbers in your region and choose those with qualities you admire. Don’t get carried away with exotics at first, but do include a few if they appeal to you. Once you get them settled in, be prepared for the young flock to grow. Numbers reproduce sexually and asexually, and can be planted, hatched, or propagated from cuttings.
It’s unclear how many generations it will take before you flock is complete and has all the numbers. But once your flock is stable and growing you can use your home-grown numbers as you need them and decide for yourself whether numbers raised in captivity are as robust and diverse as the ones that grow in the wild.