Can Birds Really Save My Soul?

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I am looking out my back window.  The headlines from another senseless tragedy still scroll across my video screen.  But my backyard is serene and peaceful.  I have a clothesline pole with three bird feeders and two suet feeders.  A minute or so ago, there were more birds than I could count.  Throughout the day, Karen and I watch the birds come and go.  Sometimes there are more than twenty birds all taking turns at our feeders.

Yesterday, we saw hummingbirds, ravens, woodpeckers, finches, doves, grackles, robins, and several other species that we could not identify.  Karen keeps a bird guide and binoculars at the ready and is always on the lookout for a new species to add to the list that we keep.  We are not true birdwatchers, but we enjoy watching the birds.  Amidst the carnage of life with its murders and wars, the birds are our escape.  They help us to remember that there is indeed sanity in the universe.

Some of the birds we see are using the water fountain for a drink after an appetizer of suet.  Several species prefer to eat the seeds that fall on the ground from the feeders.  Birds are not always neat eaters.  Eventually a few squirrels will come around.  We never chase them away and they always appear happy to rummage about on the ground for food.  We have never had a bear problem with the feeders, but we have had some raccoons that like to take the feeders down and enjoy a hardy meal.  It does not bother Karen and me.  We just reload the feeders and put them back up.  In our daily scheme of things, bird feed is very economical.  Even if it meant eating less red meat to buy more bird seed, we would gladly make the sacrifice.

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Today, with the thoughts of yet another school massacre still running through my mind, I can’t help but notice the birds and how they interact.  In all our years of watching the birds outside our kitchen window, I have never seen any bird fights.  I see many birds of different species and they all get along.  They take turns at the feeders.  They come and they go but none attack any other birds.  If there is such a thing as “bird discrimination” or “bird racism,” I have not witnessed any evidence of it.

Jesus told his disciples:

“See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither

do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father

feeds them.  Aren’t you of much more value than they?”  — Matthew 6:26

This translates for me as an admonition to worry more about my soul than about physical things.  I do not need to acquire, accumulate, hoard, and stow away toys, stuff, and merchandise because God will take care of these things.  She/he does it for the birds, so it will be done for me.  With less concern for worldly things, I must turn my attention to my soul.  I need to do the things that will make my soul worthy of continuing existence after I leave this third rock from the sun.

Now, those of you who know me will be pondering my above words with some confusion.  I thought John was an atheist some of you will say.  Others will say, I thought John was an agnostic.  One of my best friends who is a pastor, says that I am more Christian than many of the people in his congregation.  In truth, I disavow religion.  I claim no knowledge to prove or disprove the existence of something or someone that created the food and earth that I survive with.

I write the above words from the perspective of an individual who wonders why so many people who profess to be Christians do not take Jesus’s words to heart.  Call them hypocrites.  They are in many religions.  It frequently seems to me that religion is one large stew of hypocrites.  A pot full of different denominations that unlike the birds cannot get along.  A big stew that does not mix well with other stews.  The Christian stew does not mix well with the Islamic stew.  The Islamic stew does not mix well with the Jewish stew.  Even within the same stew we find acrimony and bigotry.  “My religion and my God are the one true and righteous paths to salvation.  I will slaughter anyone who disagrees with me” says the “true believer.”

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Before this blog becomes too negative, I need to go back to my bird watching window.  The birds will restore my equanimity and smooth out the hills and valleys of my life.

Birds are the saviors of our souls.

A Day in the Life of a Hummingbird

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I am a hummingbird.  My name is Archilochus Colubris, but you can call me Josh.  I am also known as a Ruby Throated Hummingbird to distinguish me from other members of my family.  We have over 330 different species in my family.  Much like humans have ethnic groups, we hummingbirds have species.  My family has the distinction of being the smallest members of the bird class known as Aves.

I listen to humans all the time talking about how tough their lives are.  Buddy, you don’t know what tough is.  Humans think they live life in the fast lane.   Did you know I flap my wings at 60 times per second?  That is 3600 times per minute.  Speedy Gonzales can run a mile in 4 minutes, in that time I could go nearly 4 miles.  I can fly upwards of 50 miles per hour.  My heart beats at over 1200 beats per minute.

Human beings, even the busiest ones take breaks several times a day.  Not me.  I almost never stop moving.  My life is constantly in motion.  I don’t have time for breaks.  My life span is only about 4 years.  During that time, I have lots to do.  Humans are always in a hurry and multi-task because they think have lots to do.  I can do in one year what it takes a human twenty years to do.  The cycle of life is the same for all of us.  We are born, grow up, age, and die.  Along the way, we make friends, have babies, eat many meals, sleep every day, and see some of the world.

60395581Did you know that if I am in Wisconsin this summer, I will migrate down to southern Mexico and northern Panama each winter?  I go by myself because hummingbirds tend to be loners.  No flocks or “birds of a feather” for us.  I enjoy the trip down each year by myself.  It takes me about a week to reach my final destination area.  The most remarkable part of my voyage is crossing the Gulf of Mexico.  I will fly non-stop up to 500 miles to reach Central America. It takes approximately 18-22 hours to complete my solitary flight.  I do this each year of my life.  I think even Charles Lindbergh would be impressed with my journey.

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b44b45903b38d29898c4e956efe12218Now I know you are all wondering about my sex life.  I have observed that this is an especially important part of a human being’s life.  So, you are probably asking how often does a hummingbird have sex and how many kids do we have in our short lives.  I probably find a female about three or four times a year to mate with.  I spend a great deal of time trying to impress a suitable mate.  I make the Blue Angels look like novices with the aerobatics I perform to attract a female of my species.  Compared to the time spent attracting a female, our mating goes pretty rapidly.  In about 4 seconds we are both done.  I have heard that some human males are even faster.

Unlike some humans and much like some others, I do not have a big role in the lives of my progeny.  I do not mate for life and I do not help my mate in any way to build her nest or care for her chicks.  In a human, this would be the height of irresponsibility, but it is just not in our DNA to take a patriarchal role with our off spring.  Of course, some human males will identify with my position.  I have observed many human males who take even less of a role than I do with their kids.

6258550c130c5ce0edb04526038302adNow as far as friends and enemies go, I do not have much of either one.  There is good and bad in this.  Humans have many friends and they tend to come and go like the weather.  I don’t have to deal with “fair weather” friends because I never make any friends.  If I miss out on the companionship, it never bothers me.

As for enemies, many birds fear hawks but I do not.  I tend to worry more about cats and praying mantis.  Both of these predators are surprisingly stealthy and have caught many a hummingbird by surprise.  Sometimes wasps, spiders, frogs, and an occasional snake will get lucky and make a meal of us.  Generally, I am speedy enough to avoid any potential predator who sees me as a tasty snack.  Being as small as I am, I cannot make much of a meal.

RubyThroatedHummerMaleAtFlowersNow we come to the biggest and most important part of my day.  Since I expend so much energy just moving and staying alive, I have an enormous appetite.  I love to eat.  My life is one constant search for food.  My favorite meals are nectar and insects.  Because of my high metabolism, I must eat all day long just to survive.  I consume about half my body weight in bugs and nectar each day.  To do this I must feed about every 10-15 minutes and visit 1,000-2,000 flowers throughout the day.  I will eat a few dozen to several hundred or even a thousand or more insects in one day, depending on the availability of insects, the type of insects, and my dietary needs. Imagine a 200-pound human eating about every 15 minutes a day and consuming 100 lbs. a day of meat.  Judging by some of the humans I see, I think some have this as a goal.  It might work for them if they were as energetic as I am, but this seldom seems to be the case with humans.

Eventually, death comes to us all.  We live fast and we die fast.  In only four years (on an average) I will be equal to an eighty-year-old human.  Like humans, hummingbirds die from many causes.  Predators eat us, we fly into stationary objects (especially windows and buildings), we get hit by vehicles, we encounter problems during migration or bad weather, we succumb to disease or other physical maladies, or we just plain get old and die.

The average heart rate of a human is about 70 beats per minute.  Assuming 80 years as an average age for most humans, than a human can expect to have about 100,800 heart beats per day x 365 days in a year x 80 years for a total of 2,943,360,000 heart beats in a lifetime.  Now my heart beats at about 1200 beats per minute or 1,728,000 per day x 365 days in a year x 4 years.  I can expect to have about 2,522,880,000 heart beats in my lifetime.  Given the range in my average age versus the average age of a human, I find it interesting that I have about the same amount of heart beats as a human does before I die.  I think there is a message here.  Maybe we all have the same amount of time on the earth, but we live it at different speeds.  Maybe we should all live each heart beat to the maximum.

I think I gave you more than a day in my life.  But since things move so fast for me, I could not help but give you a lifetime in a day.  Please watch the following video that some friends of mine made.  I am featured prominently in this film.  My one chance for stardom.

“I always loved those little creatures [hummingbird], always feel blessed when they appear nearby. There’s a magical quality to them. I finally put one in a song.” — Leonard Cohen

 

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