Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hummingbirds and sharing

This came across the transom the other day from Barbara Crafton and her Geranium Farm website.

We have two hummingbird feeders at our place, and I know of what she speaks. Of course, she is writing about more than just hummingbirds...

By Barbara Crafton

There are three feeders out here, ladies.

I don't think they heard me. Or, more likely, they did hear me and are just tuning me out. Hummingbirds are territorial -- they'd rather fight about the feeders than drink from them. No, it's NOT enough that she stays away from my feeder. I want her out of my YARD! And so they dive-bomb each other without mercy every time one of them tries to feed, and in the end, nobody eats. Hummingbirds preparing for migration need to eat about 11,000 calories a day. These two had better come to terms soon, or they'll be spending the winter in New Jersey.

In appearance they are so unlike us -- so tiny that they'll sometimes come right up to us unafraid, if we're not moving, because they think we're trees, or maybe smallish continents. They can fly backwards -- we can't even fly forwards. They can put themselves in a state of suspended animation if it gets too cold for them. Many of them are irridescent, and hardly any of us are. They may be able to inherit memory from their parents -- some hummers are believed to have found fruitful feeding grounds which their mothers visited repeatedly but to which they themselves had never been.

But in one regard we are just alike: sharing is hard for the members of both species. Often we are willing to go without something we truly want and need, just for the pleasure of depriving someone else of it.

Something primitive in us fears that someone else's good fortune will come at our expense. It is a ancient thing, I guess, born of an ancient jungle reality that bears little resemblance to the reality we actually inhabit: Grab what you can, no matter whose it is. You don't know for sure that you'll have another chance at it. Such grasping is understandable if you're a Pakistani flood survivor and haven't eaten in a week, but it's less so if you're in Metuchen and could stand to lose twenty pounds. Surrounded by more than enough of everything, we nonetheless remain fearful about our hold on anything, so much so that we are willing to sacrifice everybody's longterm good, including our own, for the sake of short-term profit we can pocket right now.

Nowhere is our moral and practical blindness more visible than in the political realm, where short-term self-interest trumps anything remotely resembling truth so frequently that we have all trained ourselves to laugh at it when we see it. Every day we hear them repackaging themselves, repudiating their own past positions, striving to help us see that they never really said what we heard them say last month -- well, that is, they may have said it, but they didn't mean what we thought they meant. What they really meant was what we want to hear. Then they wonder why people hold them in such low esteem. Such transparent self-serving is in the paper every day, of course, but it is far from new -- among our possessions is an 18th/century engraving called "The Politician," in which the subject sits reading, so intent on his newspaper coverage that he fails to notice that the candle he holds is setting his own hat on fire.

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