Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reasons for and Advantages of Loving Your Local Hummingbirds


1. They are marathon migration champions. These little three-inch buzzers can fly the nearly 3,900 miles from Alaska to Mexico in a season. Broken down to scale, that measures out to roughly 78,470,000 body lengths, which is the mathematical equivalent of raging badass.

2. They don't take any @*$^#! Though merely thumb-sized, a rufous is fiercely territorial and will chase away much larger birds who try to get up in their grill. Even mammals are not safe. Chipmunks, beware.

3. Wings = Bonkers. Their wings frenzy between 52-62 beats per second. Our sorry human eyes register this only as a blur, our ears pick up the beating only as a loud buzz. Or hum, as it were. Also, they are the only group of birds who are able to fly backwards.

When in flight, hummingbirds have the fastest metabolism of any non-insect animal in all the world. Though tiny, their hearts beat ferociously within their breasts, at well over a thousand beats per minute. They hum like a race car's engine. They hum like a bumble bee on steroids. They hum, like a psalm. And should one zoom into your home, a little rufous, careless or curious, and rise to batter the window glass, buzzing and buzzing, she will somehow actually make you feel the one who is small. And when you run outside to find a silver, dented ladder, you will not care how sturdy its steps are, not when you see this bird grow frantic, then tired. When she climbs the glass and falls back, again and again, raising thin clouds of dust from the high sill, rustling dead flies, it will take all of your concentration to remain patient. To wait for your moment. To turn your thoughts away from what if. And so you breathe. And watch. And wait. At last, when held in your palm, in a loose cage of fingers that could easily crush, a hummingbird has a way of making you feel like a giant, bumbling creature, with all the grace of an old walrus blundering across a rocky shore. When held in the cup of your hand, a small heart beating fiercely registers only as a tickle, a faint kiss. The physical weight no more than that of a larger bird's feather. The cosmic weight, immeasurable.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Breakfast With the Lord High Chancellor

You know, there is a lot of crap writing out there these days. It gets undeserved attention. This annoys me. If I hear one more thing about Fifty Shades of Gray I think I might buy a copy, just so that I might release it into the wild, with the hope that its chances for survival are at least as good as that clandestine goldfish after the flush. Blech. May its papers rot amidst the trees who created them. Anyway, you might imagine then, my delight to hear some truly wild, great, effecting writing read this past weekend when David James Duncan headlined The Whitefish Review's (a little up-and-coming non-profit literary journal) WILD Issue release party on Saturday night. You can read Cherish This Ecstasy, one of the brief essays he read,  here. It involves falcons mating with hats, ornithological-related wet dreams, Dostoevsky, divorce, and the inescapable act of being loved. Seriously, do yourself a favor.

I've admired David for a long time. I think he is one of the great new and unlikely spiritual leaders of our time--master of fearless reverence and irreverence. We've corresponded a bit for a couple of years now, but had never met in person, so I was exceedingly pleased to share breakfast with him the next morning--and even more delighted to find him just as intuitive, hilarious, open, and eloquent in person as his words would have you believe. It didn't matter if we were talking about dam-removal related death threats, or the amorous affairs of a certain legendary writer, or baseball positions, or politics, or cheese. I would have been happy to talk to him about anything. Certain people write the words, think the thoughts, see and feel the things, the great and terrible things, the beautiful mysteries...the grace... that make the world better. Make me better. These rare people don't just feed souls, they make them glow. Its no wonder they band together, drinking wine late into the night, armed with fishing poles and butterfly nets and worn-out boots. Orion has been bringing these voices-in-the-wilderness together for years in a poignant alchemy. Too many to name here. Desert wizards, mountain prophets, river bards. I remain eternally grateful for my time at that magazine, and for the opportunity it gave me to meet some of these people off the page, and even call them mentors, better yet, friends.

There is a lot of dark stuff happening in the world. Lately, sometimes when I turn out the light my heart begins to beat wildly against my ribs and I cannot sleep for all the face-eating, mining exploration, massacres, and legislated denial of a person's right to love. Haters. I lose my wits. And now this! It is a lot to take. The heart needs regeneration. A vacuum creates new space that longs to be filled. All is an Ocean.

Read that essay. For real, its all in there:

"...Or like the lone female loon who mistook a wet, moonlit interstate for water and crash-landed on the truck-grooved pavement of the fast lane: loon to whom I sprinted, as a convoy of eighteen-wheelers roared toward her, throwing my coat over her head so she wouldn't stab me, pulling her to my chest as I leapt from the concrete: loon who, when she felt this blind liftoff, let out a full far-northern tremolo that pierced, without stabbing, my coat, ribs, heart, day, life. All is an Ocean, she and Father Zossima and the avian choir keep singing as into black holes in trees, truck routes, river ice, frigid hearts, ecstatic birds keep dropping. Till even alone and in the darkness, with no special hat, clothes or wings to help me fly up and feel it, I find myself caught in the endless act of being loved..."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Yeah Baby She's Got It

There's a little black spot on the sun today
In keeping with recent tradition, I was thwarted yet again today in my attempts to witness another rare celestial phenomena, the Transit of Venus. June in Montana. I should have known better than to hope for anything more than watching pods of clouds flush from gray to grayer. And so alas, I did not gaze up between the lodgepoles too watch this amiable planet zip across the path of our sun, a small beauty mark on a bright face. Disappointing as this was, I did get to thinking that while the planet is cool and all, there is more than one Venus out there. So be on the look out! But first, please click here.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Venuses

(1) Miss Venus of Willendorf, coming in at 4.3 inches of sweet, solid oolitic limestone. Promoting baby-making for over 24,000 years in a cave near you. (See also Barry White.) 

(2) Venus aka Aphrodite aka Goddess of Love, Sex, and Beauty. With moniker like that is it any wonder that one of her creation stories reports she sprang forth from the frothy, seafoamy result of Uranus's castration in the sea, and not as a baby, but rather as a voluptuous and nubile woman? In truth, I always found her a little slutty, relentlessly cuckholidng poor workingman Hephaestus like that. But who am I to judge?

(3) Oh, Snap! The fly-trap! Aahhhhh! Audrey II...Feed me Seymour... the horror, the horror. This Venus needs no introduction. She is a total, total badass. Turning the tables on nature's traditions, this carnivorous plant has been exacting revenge on the insect world one fly at a time. Let her get big enough, she just might mow a dentist. Rick Moranis, I'm looking at you.

(4) V.E.N.U.S. Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea. Basically like seaQuest, but stationary. And without linchpin Darwin, the talking dolphin. 

(5) Mz. Williams, genetically-engineered cyborgian sister, tennis champ.
Physical characteristics: Arms and thighs of steel. Flashy outfits.
Habitat: High-class tennis courts of the world.
Diet: Trophies, mostly. Jamba Juice, blood of Serena, the odd tennis ball. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

That's One Way To Say Hello

Captain So-Glad-To-See-You
I've got a house guest this week. She's a four-legged, non-verbal, haimish redhead. She likes lazy Sundays, long walks on the beach, fishing, and retrieving projectiles. She may be named after a crusty old Bluegrass legend, but she is quite the lady. One of the best things about Monroe is how she shows her excitement. It's a rather complicated, choreographed process, really, but it serves well in getting the message across.

She is like the superhero of hellos.
Check it:

Step One: Whine.
It starts softly, with an eye twinkle. Maybe a cock of the head, a lazy tail flop. As the volume increases, the sound becomes more high-pitched, more....robust. The tempo varies. There is some tremolo action.

Step Two: Wag.
In time with her vocalizations, Monroe begins to wag her tail, casually at first, then more in earnest. Soon the tail is thrashing about, a flurry of fur, back and forth, back and forth, backandforthandbackandforth...until it seems to take on a life of its own, a life which is hell bent on moving to the left, and only the left, and so...

Step Three: Wiggle.
The wiggling begins. If the tail favors the left, so must the rump follow. Soon the whining, wagging, and wiggling morph into a sort of crab-like side winding. It is as if her back end is trying to take over for her front and lead the way. She constantly corrects herself though, so rather than shimmy around in endless circles, she ends up sidestepping forward, in full, tap-dancing convulsion.

Step Four: Grin.
Typically steps three and four begin simultaneously. Monroe is an astute observer, and knows that people often express their pleasure through smiling. And so she dutifully scrunches her nose, curls back her upper lip and bares a long row of teeth, perhaps momentarily forgetting how most other animals interpret this behavior.

Step Five: Sneeze, of course.
You know this convulsive frenzy reaches its climax when the sneezing begins. Something about the lip curl must agitate her nose, for as soon as you see teeth, you hear the first sneeze. These continue at a rate of about one sneeze per second, until she feels she has issued a sufficient good morning, good afternoon, good evening, or hey, look, it's you again greeting.


And I have to say, at the end of that performance, I do feel pretty good about myself. Like, get-me-to-the-river-so-I-can-walk-on-some-water-all-hail-the-conquering-hero good. By comparison my head nod yo greeting is pretty weak, to say nothing of the incomprehensible groan that sounds like a lot like nooo with which I typically greet each dawn. (Or, okay, nine o'clock hour.) Even a genuine smile and solid hug seem weak next to Monroe's rumpus parade of good cheer. So I intend to replicate it for loved ones in upcoming days and document the effects once all seizure/poisoning concerns are put to rest. Get ready to feel super special, yo.