His golden feathers, brilliant against his black chin and cap, made him sine in the morning sunlight. He clung to the edge of the plastic flower of the hummingbird feeder, deftly reaching over to sip sweetness from the edge of the center, then tilting his magnificent head back to drizzle it down his throat in little wavy motions of his neck. I sat in awe once again at what I call a Bullock’s Oriole. He wasn’t even six feet away, and as far as he was concerned, my name for him is mine, not his. I was merely a shadow behind the shiny pane, part of the scenery of the morning, and, unless the pane had not been there, totally uninteresting. The pane and the stuccoed wall provided the existential barrier that split his world from mine. I am only something scary in his world. If he knows it is I who put out the sugary water that he enjoys, perhaps he feels a bit of gratitude, but I suspect that’s bald-faced anthropomorphizing on my part and nothing more. What he feels is sweetness going down his neck, energizing his sizzling body for flight, for love and its conflicts and for life. His world shares space and resources with mine, but his kind has been around a whole lot longer than mine.
The wall of my house is a symptom of our western culture that walls ourselves off from the Bullock’s Orioles, Gambel’s Quail and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. We control everything inside, temperature, humidity, access to water and light; we create our own little separate world inside our houses, and make sure our doors are locked against threats. Those who have no houses to live in we call “homeless,” and wonder how they exist outside this essential divider from the rest of the world.
This existential divide between body and soul goes back at least to the ancient Greeks in western culture, but not everyone shares that heritage. The people I grew up with lived in “nice houses,” by their definitions. Their houses had dirt floors, iron-wood palm slats stuck in the ground in a row for walls, and thatch roofs under which the curun pichu (cockroach bird—house wren) wandered unhindered. When Army Ants came through everyone just vacated the place for a day while the little denizens stripped the house of insect pests. “Nature” was not “out there.” In fact, the category “nature” didn’t even really exist. “Nature” was a synonym for “creation,” of which every being was an interlocking part. So where is “nature,” after all? It is the nature of the Bullock’s Oriole to sip sweet liquids when it can, and it is my nature to watch it, wondering at its brilliance, and it is one natural world that we both live in.
We will not care for the earth as we all desperately need until we are all on the inside of the wall, and we lose the need for a separate category called “nature.”