Birds own my backyard. I have the deed to the property, but birds own it.
I don’t know enough about birds to name all who live there, but I can identify mourning doves, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and red-breasted robins. At least I think they are red-breasted robins; they are birds with red breasts.
They come for the grapes, to bathe in the fountain, to nest in the trees and grape vines that cover the pergola, and, I would like to think, to sing. I know that the songs are territorial songs. But who’s to say that our songs aren’t a way to claim our territory.
Did I mention there were hummingbirds in my yard?
In “Joyas Volardores,” Brian Doyle writes that hummingbirds have more heart attacks and aneurysms than any other living creatures. “The price of their ambition,” he writes, “is a life closer to death.”
He also writes that the biggest heart is inside the body of a blue whale. As big as a room. Big enough for a small child to stand in, ducking only to pass through one of its four valves into another chamber.
Little is known of blue whales once they reach puberty, Doyle says. Humans aren’t privy to their domestic habits. I suspect they know how to ride out typhoons.
I spent seventy-five days crossing the Pacific on a Dutch Freighter when I was a kid. Once we left the Phillipines for Long Beach, California, our final destination, we didn’t see any land for two weeks. We sailed through the tail end of typhoons, waves crashing over the bridge, which in calm seas rose three stories over the ocean’s surface.
We were not in our element. That’s how I feel when I fly in a plane. Probably OK, but not in my element.
Doyle says that blue whales travel in pairs and that their songs can be heard underwater for miles and miles.
It seems to me that uncertainty is the pervading force in our culture right now. Crumbling towers and tumbling markets have pitched us out of our element and we are at sea, riding through the tail end of typhoons, but uncertain where we are headed.
Perhaps this is an opportunity.
Maybe if we have the heart of a blue whale and are willing to notice that we always live life close to death, we will know why the nectar is worth the risk to the hummingbird, and we’ll create songs that will be heard beyond miles even we can imagine.
NOTE: I first posted this in June, 2009. We lived in Livermore back then.