I am here to report that nature
, though on the face of it vast, is content with the small. You find it where you find it, and it is not always large. It is, largely, content with it's place in the universe
I was reminded of this recently at the beach, and this was brought home more thoroughly in our own kitchen. Regarding the former I took my family, which consists of myself, my wife and our two small children, to Baker Beach
. This would be near the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge
in San Francisco
, the city where we live. Baker Beach is like any other, except that it is one of the beaches near our home, and therefore it is unique. There are rocks at Baker Beach, the large, craggy
sort that would dash ships into splinters
for the past amusement and certain profit of the locals
, and which also sport a countless number
and variety of pools
within which sea life cling, heroically
, to life. Provided the rare wrecked ship doesn't scrape them off.
On Baker Beach I had the great pleasure of employing my many years of graduate education in Biology
to point out the things to be found there. We found beached jellyfish
, victims of cruel currents like the great ships before them, and marveled at their watery essence and wondered from whence they had come. I watched my children clamber over the rocks, heard them calling with excitement with every discovery, admonished them to take care of the invertebrates
helpless beneath their feet, and noticed once more for myself how small their world was. Not the children, the invertebrates. Well the children too, but they will get over that (sadly for their parents, but for the betterment of the world as a whole
, so we encourage it.)
The invertebrates, for the most part limpets
with hardy mussels
at the lowest of tide lines, hardly get around if at all. They come to explore a tiny plot of metamorphic
stone before they give up such adventures
for a quiet life of sifting silt and scraping algae in the aquatic suburbs
such as are Baker Beach. It is charming to imagine the cold Pacific
currents later bringing them news of exciting, exotic mud flats off Alaska
, or the even more distant oyster beds
, and how they thrill at the thought of going there on safari
while safe in the knowledge that they are in no danger of doing so, like old women breathlessly
reading the National Geographic
. But that would be pure conjecture
on my part.
Things are similar in our kitchen, but without nearly the amount of sand.
In our kitchen nature has become hopelessly compressed
. Over the refrigerator, commanding a view of the human activities below, is a large cage containing two tiny Zebra Finches
. These are about the only animals in our house that we have ever bought with any forethought
, the others being an assortment of rescued scorpions
, a kidnapped banana slug
and a tank of guppies
given us by the local pet store because they were sickly
(though they were not a tank-full at the start, you understand, and certainly turned out not to be so sickly, as their innumerable progeny
would attest.) I bought the finches to keep my wife company in the kitchen. Which they do, with their flitting about the cage, and the male singing
, and what have you. They never rest it seems. My wife has complained that they are exhausting
simply to be around, with which I sympathize but only to a point. They are, after all, family
These birds live what I would have called a miserable life, in their cage (though it is huge) with nothing to do but eat and drink and fly in a limited way and groom one another. Well on reflection that's not so bad
I suppose, and not many of us can claim to do better. My sympathy did not extend to not purchasing them in the first place, you will note, but I figured that if they were to be caged it might as well be with a nice family with lots of other animals. They would have interesting neighbors, I figured, so long as I kept them from becoming intimate with the snake.
My one deliberate contribution to raise some of the tedium of their otherwise dreary existence
(other than providing plenty of food and fresh water) was to purchase for them a nesting box. And therein lay the tale.
For you see, if you are at all kind to animals then when you buy a Zebra Finch you must buy a finch owners manual, so as to grok their finchness. You would of course read it and will note toward the end, where they talk about breeding, that finches in general and Zebra Finches in particular are eager breeders, even frustratingly so (which is not the usual situation with captive animals, other than guppies, so this is intriguing.) You might note in your reading that you are encouraged to deprive the randy little beasts of a nest box
and even nesting materials
, at least until you think you are up to the challenge of what are promised to be enormous flocks of finches, darkening the skies like your own personal Biblical plague
(and since we already have the toads, scorpions and snakes you can imagine that I am sensitive to these kinds of issues.)
Being kind-hearted, I figured a nesting box was was the very least I could do for the little things.
They showed little interest in the box for some time, or at least any that I could discern. Perhaps they were still young. One day I tossed in some fresh grass, as I am wont to do to provide them something to play with. This became an immediate toy, and they were delightful with their hopping around with the bits of grass. Then, some of the grass went into the nesting box. Being the observant biologist I pointed this out to my family, and went about finding other materials they might like. There was some dried sphagnum moss
, normally reserved for the snake cage, and I went out and pulled some more fresh grass. I also found some carpet bits from the torn edge of the rug we had been pulling out of the house lately, and it looked like something they would enjoy.
They did, and it vanished into the box.
As I write this there are three eggs
that I know of in the nest. The mother seems to be brooding
them so I can't tell if there are more. She sticks her head up over the lower edge of the hole in the nesting box and watches us watching her. We are informed that "sitting" is a sure sign that the Blessed Event
is near. To our familial joy the father bird seems determined to support his family
, and is frequently to be found sprucing up the nest, bringing in choice materials to make obscure home improvements
, and not infrequently sitting himself. I understand his sense of purpose.
All this, in a cage of moderate size atop a refrigerator in a kitchen in The City
not far from Baker Beach. For the finch family we humans are the life-giving current, bringing food, nest materials and fresh water and taking away waste products. The sun rises and sets, they fall in love, make do with a small cottage and a bit of fodder and start their family. And if the Goddess
smiles upon their humble beginnings they will be fruitful
. Their world is small, microscopic even. But it is enough, and they will try to be happy.
Just like the rest of us.
We hear stories about the vast forces of nature. Nature's ability to come back after disaster, nature's fecundity, nature's creativity. That nature, indeed, abides
. But that is not very inspiring, you understand. It is grand and sweeping and it can be terrifying
, if you let yourself dwell on it. We are so small in the face of nature. Nature is no doubt part of the reason why some of us require God
as some sort of counter balance. What is inspiring is not the whole of nature but the little triumphs, the barnacle clinging to a cleft in a stone, jellyfish helplessly adrift in the sea. The finches. Even ourselves. We are inspired and we inspire others in our turn, doing the best we can to succeed. From simple success are plagues born, of course, but that's another matter.