Monday, May 08, 2006
Twittering and Flittering
With the afternoon temperatures climbing and the sky blue and nary a cloud to be seen, I've rigged up my hammock in the far corner of the courtyard, tied to a gnarly pine that wants very much to grow to its prescribed stately beauty, yet must waken each sunrise to the heated truth, a much younger Abbot Eastley in his early days of zeal, planted an assortment of flora in a clime that tests even the most hardy of cacti, and this pine is but a few of those early sprouts that have managed to reach past maturity, a stellar feat indeed. The other end of the hammock is tied to a rather bristly Joshua tree, this particular Joshua not the ones with outstretched arms, welcoming forlorn desert trekker, but a Joshua with one arm somewhat pointing due west, as though silently urging all of us of our error -- "Go West!" -- to the cool and wet and rhythmic surf of the Pacific, that then would be our morning greeting. The other arm of Joshua is cocked at the elbow and pointing straight up, a puzzling sign, for is Joshua signaling a halt? or is that arm pointing skyward, perhaps to Polaris? And the hammock is now hung and I recline and with head to pine and foot to Joshua, watch as a rather twittering sparrow flittering from Joshua to pine to unseen activities beyond the east wall, then back, and then up under a roof overhang, and from my position I can see the old weathered wood beam poking out of the white stuccoed wall, and atop it, but beneath the roof overhang, the beginnings of a nest being constructed. Again and again the twittering sparrow makes its circuit and always returns with another bit of construction material, mostly twigs as the foundation of this circular habitat taking form; the tiny beak a clever tool indeed as it weaves one twig into another with both precision and care. But alas, over the years I have observed various skillful birds constructing homes, yet not once have I observed a mother or a father bird teaching these skills to a young fledgling. I can't image Abbot Eastley constructing this monastery without the instruction and guidance of Sherwood Covington (see Righting a Wrong, Feb. 11, 2006), but of course these unlearned nest builders were born with nest-building skills! Certainly Abbot Eastley wasn't born with monastery-building skills -- planing timber, sawing tenons, drilling and chistling mortises. But again, how does this flittering sparrow know how to construct this nest without ever being taught? Yes, these and other riddles of life are answered by scientists with the wave of a hand: innate skills! instinct! inborn behaviors! All hardwired into that tiny pea of a brain at birth. Really? Now, time for a nap.