The story behind today’s post begins a day ago, when I had a chance encounter with one of my neighbors…
There’s a walkway that runs by my front door, and several neighbors — including the gentleman in question — are obliged to use this walkway if they want to get out to the street, and then to the greater world beyond (the only alternatives would be either a prohibitive climb up to the roof and a subsequent great leap across to one of the adjacent properties — a procedure that might make Spider-Man himself blanch — or the digging of a subterranean escape tunnel…not too surprisingly, my neighbors have all so far elected to just use that walkway…).
Directly across from my front door, just on the other side of the walkway, there grows this very large cactus plant. I’d say it grows to just about the height of a regulation basketball hoop…meaning, it’s a fair bit taller than I am, and I’m not exactly a short individual when viewed in the context of the field of adult male humans currently walking the Earth. My neighbor is even taller than I am, and some of the cactus’ spines had begun to rake the air at about the exact height of my neighbor’s eyes, and right where he would have preferred to walk when entering or leaving the grounds. So yesterday, he’d addressed the issue by pruning back a not insignificant percentage of the cactus…
Cutting back some of the reaching arms of the cactus not only cleared away some of the spiny threat from my neighbor’s daily trajectories, but as it turned out, it also revealed a little marvel of nature: a bird had made a nest in the crook of several branching offshoots of the trunk of the plant, and this mother bird was nurturing two baby birds therein:
So to now laboriously connect all this preamble stuff up to the real subject of today’s post: the hummingbird!
First, I should state that the birds currently living in that luxurious cactus-crib are not hummingbirds. They’re whatever this species is:
But here’s how we get from those birds to the hummingbird:
When I got up this morning and lurched into the kitchen for a glass of water (I am not a morning person, and am very…slow…to truly awaken…), I remembered the little family of birds in the cactus, so I peered through the Venetian blinds of my kitchen window to see how they were doing…and the first thing to greet my eyes was not them, but was instead — far closer to me than the cactus I’ve been droning on about — a single hummingbird, whirring away, while extracting nutrition from the big flowers blooming just beyond that same kitchen window. I’m not sure of the exact distances involved, but I’d say that the little hummingbird was only two or three times the length of my arm from where I was standing at the window. This was quite the unexpected little treat of a sight with which to start my day, as I’ve always admired the unique flight patterns of these little characters!
I was reminded of how when I was just a tyke, one or more of the older kids in my neighborhood maintained with great apparent authority that scientists had proven — proven!! — that hummingbirds shouldn’t be able to fly under the prevailing laws of physics…but hummingbirds didn’t know this, and therefore flew anyway.
As my own research in recent years shows (translation: “According to some stuff I read today on the internet…”), this is not exactly true. What is true, though, is just how unique these adorable little air-sprites are in terms of their flight. For one thing, they share some traits with insects with respect to flight that other birds do not. The hummingbird actually distributes about a quarter of its weight-bearing function while flying to the upstrokes of its wings, whereas virtually all other birds bear their weight solely with the downstrokes. The odd variations help to enable the hummingbird to not only fly as other birds do, but to add to their collective bag of tricks the abilities of hovering, flying backwards, and even flying upside-down!
Also of note, the hummingbird has a highly souped-up metabolism, but can enter a sort of pseudo-hibernation state to conserve energy when slumbering or when food sources are scarce (that is, they can drift into a sort of “sleep-mode” to save on power, much like our computers do).
Hummingbirds don’t show up in some of our greatest bodies of classic mythologies (such as Greek, Norse, or Egyptian) because they only inhabit the Americas, but you can find at least one major Deity in Aztec lore named Huitzilopochtli who often took on the form of a hummingbird. There’s even a hummingbird geoglyph found among the Nazca Lines of southern Peru (these are large, pictographic markings found on the earth that are believed to date back about 1,500 years, give or take a century or two — the Nazca Lines could easily provide fodder for a post of their own…).
Also, the smallest bird in the entire world…is a hummingbird.
So I think the Universe was helping me to start my day by flagging for me the idea that the smallest things can be some of the most remarkable — so I should pay attention! — and that it’s possible to be part of a larger group, while still maintaining a tremendous sense of individuality (the way hummingbirds are part of the much larger group of birds in general, but they still possess these very odd specific traits that other birds don’t share). Such are some of the lessons of our extraordinary little friend, the hummingbird!