Monday, September 15, 2014

HUMMINGBIRDS AND THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.

In 1996, on a desolate road near my house (in South Jersey), I slammed on my brakes and did a crazy, screeching U-Turn. This wild maneuver contradicted my usual conservative nature…even worse, my two-year old son Andrew was in the back seat.

What would cause me, to do something so desperate and irresponsible? I can tell you in one word, turkey buzzards! Wait, that’s two words.

You should be aware that I am a city boy and grew-up in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. While some people imagine my formative years to be associated with the mean streets of New York, the reality is, I enjoyed a pleasant and na├»ve childhood, in a safe, suburbia-like pocket of the greatest city on earth. So in terms of animals in the wild, my upbringing was boring.  That means if I saw a squirrel it was rare and spotting a praying mantis made front page news.

Most of my early knowledge about animals came from zoologist Marlin Perkins. He was the moderator for the TV show, “WILD KINGDOM.” The series (for all ages) brought exotic animals into our homes and taught us about conservation.
ON THE RIGHT, MARLIN PERKINS (1905-1986) WAS A ZOOLOLOGIST WHO HOSTED "WILD KINGDOM," FROM 1963-1985.  IT WAS ALWAYS FUNNY TO ME THAT BEFORE CUTTING AWAY TO AN INSURANCE COMMERCIAL, PERKINS WOULD SAY SOMETHING LIKE, "WHILE JIM (FOWLER) IS WRESTLING THE ALLIGATOR, I'LL BE SAFELY DOWNSTREAM WITH SOME WORDS ABOUT WHOLE LIFE POLICIES."

I had Marlin Perkins in mind as I impulsively turned my car around. I couldn't wait to get back for a better look at those ugly, huge vulture-like birds.  I had never witnessed Mother Nature in action like this and was fascinated.  I gaped for nearly five minutes as they tore flesh off fresh road kill (a deer)…it was incredible.

Since then I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the danger flying in the sky.

In 1997, my family and I met vacationing friends (also New Yorkers), for a picnic lunch on the beach in Cape May, (NJ). In addition to being germophobes, this couple shunned the sun. So we rented an umbrella, plus, both of them left on their tee-shirts and covered their legs with towels. Whatever bare skin that was left exposed to the elements was doused in sun-bloc, the way an obese guy would slather maple syrup on an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.

The wife was overly concerned about the filthy beach sand getting on her hero sandwich. She looked like a kneeling Statue of Liberty with her torch-like lunch held high when a sea gull did a kamikaze dive, swooped down and bit off a chunk, (and nipped her finger too). The "disgusting" scavenger bird did not break her skin.  Still, at the fear of her internal system being tainted, she cursed in fluent profanity while panicking...as if she was hemorrhaging gallons of blood. We dropped everything we were doing and rushed her to an emergency room, (don't worry about me, I managed to finish my Italian sub during the hysteria of our exodus).

We waited almost an hour at the hospital and she still hadn’t been admitted. Rather than keep our three-year old (Andrew) cooped up any longer, we left the imperiled pair behind and drove home, (the woman did not contract any disease and was fine).

That experience furthered my awareness of the dangers flying over head. That’s why when I found out that one of Andrew’s little friends was spooked by a hooting owl outside his bedroom window, I didn’t think it was weird that the boy's family rearranged everyone’s rooms.

Indeed, the woodlands around my house are filled with other birds of prey. The king of the treetops here is the hawk. Within a few years, I recognized them. So when I saw one soar high above searching for food or gliding through the canopy of trees, I marveled at its majesty while fearing its possibilities.

We got Andrew a guinea pig (Zhitnik) when he was four. In addition to being a pet, this rodent was a friend and a toy for my son while also becoming our family mascot.

Andrew’s friends loved to come by and play with Zhitnik, and “the rat” dug the attention. Soon my boy was becoming more sophisticated and wanted to share his pet with the kids at school. Upon the success of taking Zhitnik to “Show and Tell,” my boy started taking the little bugger to a friend’s house. This evolved into him taking the rat for a walk up and down the street.
YOU THOUGHT I WAS KIDDING BUT I WASN'T, ZHITNIK WAS A MAJOR PART OF OUR FAMILY AND NEEDED TO BE PROTECTED.

I knew the reputation hawks had and...they're all over the place. So I didn’t want to be an alarmist.  But when I saw Andrew set Zhitnik free on our lawn for the other kids to play with, I had to spring into action. There was only one diplomatic thing I could do…LIE. I told Andrew that most guinea pigs were allergic to grass, (a kid in his class was allergic to peanuts, so he understood my seriousness).

I took that tact because there was no way I was going to let a dive-bombing hawk snatch-up our pet, carry Zhitnik off and eat him for dinner.  The fib was worth it because if the worst case scenario happened, I didn't want to risk psychologically scarring my kid (or his friends) for life.
ANDREW'S KNOWLEDGE OF HAWKS WAS LIMITED TO HENERY, (above to the right).  THIS LOONEY TOON CARTOON CHARACTER WAS A TOUGH, NEW YORK ACCENTED CHICKEN HAWK.  HE APPEARED IN TWELVE CARTOONS BETWEEN 1942 AND 1961.  THE USUAL THEME WAS HIM ENLISTING THE HELP OF FOGHORN LEGHORN (left), TO FIND CHICKENS TO EAT.  AS A ROOSTER, LEGHORN SAW IT PRUDENT TO MISLEAD THE LITTLE HAWK INTO TRYING TO EAT OTHER ANIMALS...LIKE DOGS.

It's important not to lie to your kids. But this time, I was justified because I wanted to spare my son his impressionable youth and not being forced to explain the reality of bigger animals eating smaller ones. Coincidentally, the movie "LION KING," came out the year Andrew was born (1994).  One of the hit songs from the movie was, "THE CIRCLE OF LIFE."
COMPOSED BY ELTON JOHN, THE LYRICS TO, "THE CIRCLE OF LIFE," POETICALLY EXPLAIN WHY THE FALCON (above) IS EATING ANOTHER BIRD.

Andrew had seen the "LION KING" countless times by the time he was twelve. So my sixth grader was better equipped to understand more mature and complex matters like the struggles for life and death, survival of the fittest etc.  That's why the timing was perfect when his school's 2006 year-end band concert rolled around.  For the program's big finish, my boy (as first flute) was selected to perform a solo during, "THE CIRCLE OF LIFE."
"THE LION KING," IS MY FAVORITE KIDDIE MOVIE OF ALL-TIME. ITS MAIN THEME IS, THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.  THE STORY DELICATELY EXPLAINS HOW THE GRASS AND FLOWERS FEED SMALL ANIMALS AND HOW BIGGER ONES FEED-OFF SMALLER ANIMALS.  THIS SAME CIRCLE OF LIFE DEALS WITH THE UNFOLDING OF GENERATIONS, HOW PARENTS DIE AND BABIES ARE BORN.

Below are lyrics to, "THE CIRCLE OF LIFE."

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun

There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

It seems like yeaterday but Andrew's "Circle of Life" solo was eight years ago.  I dug out the CD of his performance and a tear still comes to my eye.  They had given him a pan-flute to use but he couldn't master it in the short time. Instead, he was able to create the haunting/whining quality they were looking for, on his own flute.  Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to attach that one cut to this blog.  But if you click on the link below, you'll hear it from a professional.  Just bear in my mind that the flute solo at the end, was what Andrew did.
http://search.mywebsearch.com/mywebsearch/redirect.jhtml?action=pick&qs=&pr=GG&searchfor=circle+of+life+lion+king+youtube&cb=CD&pg=GGmain&p2=%5ECD%5Exdm003%5ES04317%5Eus&n=77fc41c7&qid=fc99bb6fd473469ba3850f4ff04433e6&ss=sub&pn=1&st=bar&ptb=D6B92608-79BD-4909-92A0-160CFD832118&tpr=&si=CKuH4unForUCFQPd4AodLCEADg&redirect=mPWsrdz9heamc8iHEhldEcgdjfjqpMajKYmz288FhTJ5RH%2BPhkZIGeaU%2Bcotya%2FcsW3jj6a8%2BSZwBhNLwKpthA%3D%3D&ord=0&ct=AR&

To be consistent with the circle of life theme, I want to share a beautiful bird experience I recently enjoyed...and have been lucky enough to see it repeat itself many times.

Better than seeing a turkey buzzard tearing the flesh off a deer, I saw my first hummingbird, (December 1995), in San Diego California.
THE HUMMINGBIRD IS THE WORLD'S SMALLEST ANIMAL, (OTHER THAN INSECTS).  THERE ARE OVER 300 SPECIES BUT THE "BEE" HUMMINGBIRD WEIGHS LESS THAN AN AMERICAN PENNY.  THE HUMMINGBIRD NAME COMES FROM FLAPPING ITS WINGS BETWEEN 50 AND 200 TIMES PER SECOND...WHICH CAN SOUND LIKE A HUM TO THE HUMAN EAR. DUE TO ITS HIGH ENERGY,TO MAINTAIN ITS INCREDIBLE METABOLISM, HUMMINGBIRDS MUST CONSUME MORE THAN THEIR BODY WEIGHT DAILY.  THEY VISIT HUNDREDS OF FLOWERS TO FEED OFF NECTAR AND ARE CONTINUOUSLY HOURS AWAY FROM STARVATION, (THEY STORE JUST ENOUGH FUEL TO SURVIVE OVER-NIGHT).

When I saw the hummingbird nineteen years ago, I wanted to watch it forever.  It didn't look real.  It hovered, flew backwards and upside down.  I assumed they were native to Southern California or warm climates and never gave it another thought.  That is until, my wife Sue bought two potted flowers (red) and set them on our deck.

I like reading the newspaper and doing the puzzle page with my morning coffee.  Weather permitting, I take the whole kit and kaboodle outside.  One day, Sue said she saw a hummingbird out there.  It didn't really register until I saw one myself. 

I have seen so many this past month that I position myself five feet from these flowers.  The show put on by these bug-sized eating machines is so enthralling that I stop what I'm doing and watch.  These humming-tweety-birds don't mind me either, (the one time I brought a camera outside, they didn't show up...maybe I should bring it out every day).  They get close enough to touch before a sound or a breeze causes them to make a crazier U-Turn than I could ever muster.  Then I watch in wonderment as they wisp off, in an unworldly way, (like a mechanically controlled drone or an alien organism from outer space).

While the skies are full of dangerous flying predators, it's great to sit back and see the gentle, true splendor of life up above.  Geez, now I can't get the "Circle of Life" tune out of my head, but that's good thing.

Don't worry, when I figure out what kind of flowers our hummingbirds are attracted to, I'll recommend you get some...just so you can see the show too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your silent shout out to all "Zamfir" fans across the lands did not go unnoticed, my friend. Here's to two lamenting fathers missing their babies. Oh, and whilst your glass is raised, a toast to wet pennies wherever and whenever they are found.