I watched a robin doing the heroic ordinary today. First he alighted on a rusty railing about ten feet from me and stared. Robins are like that. Redwing blackbirds on the other hand, flirt. Herons are imperial of course, never want to give even a hint of paying attention to you. Sparrows are frightfully anxious unless in a quarrel (that’s what they call a group of them), and then they will get quite familiar.
I digress. The robin stared at me from the railing. Straight on at first, then with a tilt of the head to get a full measure of who he was dealing with. Satisfied about my character, he dropped to the grass. Did you ever marvel at how a songbird is able to drop six feet or more down to the ground in the blink of an eye and not disturb a blade of grass?
It has long been assumed that what we’ve accomplished with airplanes more or less mimics how birds fly. That turns out, like many assumptions, not to be true. Wing tip vortexes, drag, and lift, which are important for airplanes are not the same at all for birds. We still do not have a verified theory about bird flight. We do know that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs (think T-Rex), that a hummingbird can fly backwards (try that stealth bomber!), and some birds that weigh only as much as two quarters can fly non-stop from Canada to Brazil.
Okay, I really have lost the thread here. Back to that robin.
As graceful as a cottonwood seed blowing in the breeze, the robin dropped down into the grass. Still staring at me, he hopped around with agility and effortless lift that would be the envy of any athlete. Then he picked up a one inch stick. Hopping across the yard no longer concerned about my presence, he found another stick that was better. This one was at least twelve inches, maybe longer. A robin weighs under three ounces (less than a tennis ball) so I waited with bated breath to see if he would try to fly with it. He wasn’t even holding the stick in the middle for balance, but extremely lopsided from an end. Surely he could not fly with it that way. Wrong. With a Michael Jordan leap he lifted off and flew forty feet up and over to land in a crab apple tree. He flitted about the branches of that tree until he got to the top of it and then flew another sixty feet up into a long-needled pine. There he disappeared into thickly clothed branches.
I was witnessing ordinary strength and common wisdom achieving herculean results, something even humans can perform. It is called “one step at a time” while using the unremarkable, every day abilities that come standard for people. Surely that robin was amazed to see me sitting on a porch stoop, computer on my lap, typing words that will eventually make it thousands of miles elsewhere on the globe – maybe even Brazil.
We can do amazing things, and endure long trials, and reconcile terrible wounds. Really, we can.