Not long ago I heard a fluttering sound as I opened the glass sliding doors to our north facing deck. There on the deck floor lay a little emerald green, ruby red-throated hummingbird, alive but unable to fly. The little fellow was badly injured when it flew into the reflection of a world that wasn’t there, a metaphor for a fate that can befall even those of our own species.
The ruby-throated hummingbird is a species that generally spends the winter in Central America and migrates to Eastern North America for the summer to breed. It’s the most common hummingbird in our area here in western North Carolina. They are solitary little creatures and are not social other than during courtship. I’m sure a few souls out there will swear they’ve known similar people. Hummingbirds also have one of the highest metabolic rates of any animal, with heart rates up to 1260 beats per minute and a breathing rate of about 250 breaths per minute even at rest. Pacemakers are never needed.
I held the little guy for a long time stroking its tiny head and body and it seemed unusually calm. I felt a sense of helplessness. Realizing this little miracle of the garden wouldn’t survive for long, I decided to provide a little food and a comfortable place. I gently held it in the palm of my hand as it drank from the feeder tube and then placed it in a cool garden setting to live out its final moments.
As I think of that incident, I’m reminded of the pure description of the creation story in Dr. James D. Tabor’s marvelous new translation of The Book of Genesis. In a most literal and accurate rendering of the original Hebrew text we find ELOHIM saying; “Let the waters swarm a swarm of living life-breathers, and let the flyer fly upon the land, upon the face of the expanse of the skies.” And ELOHIM created the large water-beasts, and every living life-breather that moves about, with which the waters swarm, according to their type, and every winged flyer, according to its type.” In verse 25, ELOHIM makes “the living thing of the land, according to its type, and the animal according to its type, and every moving thing of the soil according to its type. And ELOHIM saw that it was good.”
We saw in the first article of “The Good Earth,” that a mere spoonful of good pasture soil may contain a billion bacteria, a million fungi, and ten thousand amoebae plus other small molecules, all alive and life-giving. We begin to get the picture of the beautiful Hebraic expression describing the ground as “teeming with every moving thing of the soil.”
So too with the “living life-breathers” of the animal kingdom; “the animal according to its type.” John Muir, the influential Scottish-American naturalist once stated: “Most wild animals get into the world and out of it without being noticed.” Think about that. Despite all the domesticated animals that humans use for food, clothing, playthings, or pets, most wild creatures “get into the world and out of it without a single human ever seeing them.”
How about the insect kingdom? In her book titled “Extraordinary Insects,” Norwegian biologist Anne Sverdrup discusses the transformation of insects from larvae to adult-the process of metamorphosis, exclaiming, “There are still many mysteries left in our world.” The first paragraph of the book is sobering; “There are more than 200 million insects for every human being living on the planet today.” The author states there may be as many as 10 quintillion of these six-legged critters, more than the grains of sand on the beaches of the earth! In a later summary, she muses “Like it or not, they have you surrounded, because Earth is the planet of the insects.”
The natural world contains over 8.7 million species, according to the latest estimate described by scientists as the most accurate ever. The number comes from studying relationships between the branches and leaves of the “family tree of life.” The vast majority of the 8.7 million are animals, with progressively smaller numbers of fungi, plants, protozoa (a group of single-celled organisms) and chromista (algae and other micro-organisms). The figure excludes bacteria and some other types of microorganisms.
If this is correct, it is estimated that only about 14% of the world’s species have yet been identified, and only 9% of those in the oceans. The scientific journal PLOS Biology states “that many species will become extinct before they can be studied.”
Harvard entomologist E. O. Wilson has said we live on an “unknown planet.” Perhaps we do. We know very little about our own home or what’s here, let along what our universe holds. The creation story describes the wondrous multifunctional life sustaining design of planet Earth’s ecosystem. With 7.8 billion people crowding the planet, clear-cutting forests for agriculture and development, infiltrating previously protected ecosystems and destroying Earth’s natural protective barriers, we are reminded that the Good Earth is a living organism fighting for her life.
America’s founding fathers recognized this profound reality when forming our secular form of government. “When in the course of human events…” opens our secular scripture, the Declaration of Independence. We are entitled to freedom and equality by “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” No explanation or religious context is presented.
In the beautiful simplicity of the original Hebraic thought we see that in the beginning, we have the waters “swarming a swarm of living life-breathers,” the “animal and every living thing according to its type,” and “every moving thing of the soil, according to its type,” and the “flyers flying upon the land, upon the face of the expanse of the skies.” And God declared, “that it was good.”
Perhaps for several summers I had watched my little emerald ruby-throated friend feeding on nectar from the scarlet bee balm, one of its favorite plants, near the entrance to our pergola. I decided to bury it there in the tiniest of graves among the lilies, bee balm and butterfly bushes of the garden it probably flew thousands of miles to return to each year.
It wasn’t an elaborate funeral. Actually it was a rather simple one. Wrapped in the fresh petals of a beautiful scarlet lily, one of God’s most magnificent little creatures, one of the littlest of the living life-breather flyers, was laid to rest in the good soil of our mother earth. Dust to dust.
RIP little ruby red.