Across the Universe

Every three or four years the PBS science program “Nova” puts on a show about the universe and I’ll tune in hoping to learn a bit more about space — the final frontier.  The current offering is “The Fabric of the Cosmos” hosted by a very affable physicist named Brian Greene.  Now, I’m not pretending to understand this stuff but it does interest me.  Black holes, super novas, expanding galaxies … it’s all interesting stuff.  But this current show, at least the first episode, is exploring a new concept.  Specifically, it puts forth the notion that space — that blackness we look at in the nighttime sky — is not as empty as we may have once assumed it to be.  Space is actually a kind of membrane or cloth, pulled taut, upon which the planets, suns, stars and other space objects rest.  And when they “rest” on that membrane or fabric they make a dent.  Sort of like this.

And those “dents” explain why our moon orbits about us.  It isn’t just our gravitational pull but it’s the dent in the fabric of the cosmos.  I think of it like a roulette wheel and the moon is trapped in that ridge above the numbers.  Okay, I know it isn’t very scientific but it is the way I “get my head around” this concept that we are sitting on a “membrane” or giant cloth pulled tight!

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not ‘dissing the notion of a Cosmos Fabric.  Just the opposite.  I find the concept intriguing, fascinating, and oddly familiar.  Something in the concept strikes a chord within me.  Perhaps it is the vestige of stardust being re-awakened.  Perhaps it is a deep-seated but non-verbal “shock of recognition.”

All of which brings us to Bella, a stray dog who lived on the Hohewald Elephant Preserve in Tennessee. Bella was befriended, or vice versa, by Tara, a six ton elephant.  We’ll never know why.  You see, already it is like the Fabric of the Cosmos.

Bella and Tara spent eight years together.  At one point Bella suffered an injury and the nice humans who run the preserve took her into their compound to nurse her back to health.  Tara was distraught and stood vigil by the gate for several days, until the humans brought Bella down and showed her to Tara.  The delicate trunk snaked through the gap in the gate, sniffing and touching the injured canine.  All was well.

Bella was eventuallly returned to the preserve and her friend Tara.  If you visit the Hohenwald website (http://www.elephants.com/) you can see pictures of these friends in all seasons.  The joy they took in the company of each other is apparent.  But recently Bella died. She was killed by coyotes.  At least that is the speculation.  The humans at the preserve really don’t know.  They found Bella’s lifeless, torn body near the barn.  She hadn’t died there since there was no evidence of a fight. And when they found Tara there was blood on her trunk.  Tara had carried Bella to the humans.  She wanted them to know what happened.  Obviously with 2,200 acres Bella could have simply disappeared and never been found.  But Tara would have none of that. She brought her friend to the humans because she knew they cared too.

Bella was buried on the preserve and Tara has been seen visiting the grave. Tara’s elephant sisters have been staying closer to her, touching her with their trunks, offering her morsels of hay and food.  They know what has happened.  They understand.

So, what does all this have to do with the Fabric of the Cosmos?  Perhaps nothing.  But perhaps there is a membrane that joins all of us together…not just the planets and the vast “emptiness” of space.  And somehow Bella and Tara fell into each other’s orbit, content to enjoy each other’s company in ways that we, and possibly they, can never understand.  But joy is contagious and their friendship blessed all of us.

Dead Hummingbirds

Did you know there are between 200-400 billion birds in the world at any given moment?  Even at the low side (200 billion) that’s a lot of birds.  Yet we know so little about them.  I recall a comic once who built a routine around the fact that you never see baby pigeons.  He had a point.  You also rarely see dead birds.  There are the road kill bodies, usually sea gulls who were too greedy and too stupid to get out of the way.  But with all the birds around it seems as if you would, on a fairly regular basis, see dead birds in your yard, in parks, at the seashore … you know, places where birds hang out.  But you don’t.

So, it was with complete and utter amazement that I found a dead hummingbird in my front yard. I caught a glimpse of his tail feathers and dismissed it as a mushroom but something made me turn back.

There he was, nestled down into the tall grass.  Had he fallen from the tree?  Did a gust of wind catch him the wrong way and drive him into the Augustine grass?  Upon picking him up I dismissed the idea of a predator.  He was fully in tact, no sign of blood or trauma.  And so light … featherweight indeed.   There’s the obvious joke about birds finding the hospice nurse home and kicking the bucket.  But we’ll probably never know why this little guy was dead on my front lawn.  It was a wonderful opportunity to hold a hummingbird and experience the lightness of a remarkable being.  Naturally I snapped some pictures to preserve the memory.  I doubt this will come my way again.

(Originally published October 4, 2009)

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