Friday, December 31, 2010


One of our great joys here on the island is watching our hummingbirds at the feeder, Bahamian woodstars, no bigger than your little finger. My, how their tiny hearts must flutter, their wings an invisible blur as they hover, dipping their soda-straw beaks into the sugar water, sucking up the carbohydrates they need to keep their turbo-charged metabolism going.

But look at the photo here, a nest with two eggs, with my thumb for scale.

An architectural wonder, beautifully woven with the finest of threads, not too big, not to small, sublimely shaped and suited to its purpose.

And this is what never ceases to elicit wonder: The bird is born with the knowledge of when and how to make the nest.

Somehow, in a way no one has yet begun to understand, the art of the nest comes with the DNA. A four "letter" code on the double helix. GAGATTACA… and all that.

The DNA spins off proteins as genes are called into play and expressed. A brain is constructed and hardwired, and the "idea" of the nest is woven into the hummingbird's brain as exquisitely as the hummingbird weaves scavenged fibers into a nest. In every invisibly small cell of the hummingbird's body is the information with the potential -- given the appropriate conditions for expression --to make a hummingbird nest.

One can't think about this without one's jaw at least slightly dropping. There is something deep and beautiful and mysterious afoot in the world, something that weaves all of us -- hummingbirds and humans -- into a single mutually-dependent unity. Something that as yet has no name worthy of its majesty.

Oh, yes, you will say. It has a name. Its name is God. But that little word with all of its anthropomorphic resonances is far too paltry to express the thing we sense but do not yet understand. It allows the part -- the human -- to stand for the whole.

Better to call it simply "life."

Or better yet, keep reverently silent.