Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hummingbird and heron

We have two regular visitors to our yard, a hummingbird and a heron.

We sit on the screened porch and watch them.

The hummingbird comes to the feeder like a tiny lightning bolt, darting so fast we can hardly follow its flight with the eye. It hovers, its wings a blur, dipping, again and again, its long curved beak into the sugary elixir. Dip. Dip. Dip. And then it's gone. Zip. Into the sea grape, or to its favorite perch on the telephone wire.

Can its heart really beat as fast as its wings flutter?

And the heron.

The hummingbird is as small as my pinkie; the heron is as tall as my arm.

It moves with a regal grace. Across the sand. Or along the railing of the guesthouse porch. Lifting its feet and putting them down with a studied nonchalance, as if it were walking across stepping stones in a pond.

Its head turns this way. And that. It fixes us with its laser eye. Then turns away as if to say, "I can't be bothered."

As different as electricity and molasses. Yet related. A common ancestor. In my mind's eye I follow their shared avian DNA back in time, tens of millions of years. The hummingbird and the heron.

And deeper still, to that branching in the family tree of life where our own lineage and that of Aves intersect. I think of the Jesuit scientist/mystic Teilhard de Chardin: "We humans cannot see ourselves completely except as part of humanity, humanity as part of life, and life as part of the universe." And I whisper with my microbiologist friend Ursula Goodenough: "Hosannah! Not in the highest, but right here, right now, this."