Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On Hummingbirds

"Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird's heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird's heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird's heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them ...

Each visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles and hour. They can fly backward. They can fly more than five thousand miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their heart sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating ...

Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have racecar hearts that eat oxygen at eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles - anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It's expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old ..."

Brian Doyle in The Best American Essays/2005

Simply incredible.


C C said...

Well, it's always a choice how you want to live it. here's the bane of modern civilization. we live too fast. globalization, space ships, world wide web, concords, superstores, maximum strength, race cars -- all's about magnanimous rapidity.
somehow the tediuos journey within self has taken a back seat.
not being a critique, but in times like these we simply live too fast. we should slow down a little bit.

Sandy said...

Well said CC.

'Hummingbird-watching' is a big naturalist hobby in the Americas. I recently saw a TV program where they showed how hummingbirds (in South America forests) are trapped for tagging (with a microchip) to enable tracing them. It is like the ultimate contradiction - leave the pace of modern life and enjoy leisure time with a creature which itself lives the biggest rush.