Bird in hand
Assuming we do exist, we do so in the body of the universe
“For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.” —D.H. Lawrence
A few days ago, I was settling down on the living-room sofa for a much-anticipated afternoon nap, when a bird smacked into one of the seven big windows that make our living room feel so light and airy. Alas, this sickening thud usually presages a dead bird, or one so stunned that our cat, if he can get outside in time, makes short work of. And so it was with some trepidation that I got up to look out the various windows to see what I could see.
To my surprise and chagrin, the bird in question had not smacked the outside of a window, but had flown through our open sliding-glass door and struck the inside of a pane; and there she was, a little gray sparrow with pretty white markings, standing stock-still on a windowsill.
“Hello, beautiful,” I said to the bird, hoping to catch and release her without hurting her, and without causing so much commotion that our cat would come running to capture a high-protein snack.
But how could I catch the bird without scaring her into frantic flight? I picked up the big straw basket I use for shopping and thought I’d somehow put the basket over the bird and then … then what? Wouldn’t the bird just fly out from under the basket and zoom around the room and smack into another window and break her neck or bring our cat running or—
Yet, even as I was entertaining such unpleasant scenarios, I got closer and closer to the bird, until I was right beside her, and she remained standing absolutely still. So I slowly reached out and gently encircled her body with my fingers, carefully gripped her just tightly enough so she couldn’t escape, and carried her to the doorway where I opened my hand, and she sprang into the air and winged her way across the meadow to the forest.
And two seconds after I released that little bird, our big gray bird-killing cat came sauntering into the living room and gave me a most disparaging look, or so it seemed.
Then, this morning, on my way to get the newspaper that magically appears at the mouth of our driveway every Sunday morning, a bird who was the spitting image of the bird I saved, accompanied me along the drive, flitting from branch to branch and staying close to me for the entire hundred yards, fluttering her wings and chirping away, as if trying to communicate something to me, or so it seemed.
Was she the same bird I rescued? Was she thanking me? Or was she perhaps trying to repay me with information she thought I might find useful—truths about the universe we humans have overlooked or forgotten.
“Probably not,” says my logical mind, but “Maybe so,” says the part of me that believes nature is far more fantastic than we can possibly imagine, so that a bird wanting to thank a person is every bit as likely as the evolution of a gigantic tortoise or elephant or human from a single-celled predecessor scrabbling around in the primordial soup. After all, if whales saved by people from entangling fishnets frequently hang around after being rescued to express their gratitude, might not that little bird have been doing the same?
Indeed, I think animals and trees and insects must be hollering themselves hoarse trying to get through to us humans, hoping to set us straight about how to live on the Earth without wrecking everything. The indigenous people of North America certainly believed animals and insects and birds and clouds and rivers and trees and stones were talking to them, teaching them the laws of nature, and that if a person listened and observed carefully enough, the animals and insects and birds and clouds and rivers and trees and stones would reveal everything Great Spirit wanted us to know, Great Spirit being their name for God or nature or universe.
The funny thing to me about the idea of our existing within the body of a vastly intelligent universe—and by funny I mean both amusing and perplexing—is that so many people find the idea idiotic and even dangerous. Yet, assuming we do actually exist, we do so within the body of the universe. Right?
So, the perceived idiocy of the idea must be about whether or not the universe is intelligent; and before we can answer that question we would have to agree on a definition of intelligence, and since we will never be able to agree about that, the discussion ends here.