One day last week, I looked out the back door of our house and saw a bright green hummingbird hovering and darting around the pair of pots filled with columnar cacti pictured above. Since the cacti aren’t flowering, I couldn’t figure out what the hummingbird was doing there. As I watched, I remembered that sometimes spiders have spun webs between those cacti columns. That led me to realize that the hummingbird was stealing bugs from the spiderweb.
Hummingbirds are bright, flashy, and pretty creatures. We tend to love them, and love photographing them, but that’s probably because they are so much smaller than we are. To anything their size or smaller, though, they can be a menace. Over the decades, I’ve seen dozens of hummingbird bullies, chasing others away from a feeder when there’s clearly enough nectar to share. The chittering sound they make when fighting is probably something I’ll recognize for the rest of my life because I’ve heard it so often.
The hummingbird is not afraid to take something because it can. It will drain every flower on the bush if it can, so why not take every bug in a spider’s web? They probably don’t even understand the concept of stealing.
I’ve witnessed a lot of humans who take what they want too. Some of them don’t seem to understand the concept of stealing either. This leads me to imagine that it’s human nature—but we Christians seem to think we can overcome this tendency and live in harmony with each other.
I know such harmonious behavior is possible in nature because I’ve seen images of hummingbirds sharing feeders without driving others away. But that’s not the reality for many of us. No matter how equitably we think we arrange matters in our society, some will take advantage of others’ labor, just as the hummingbird did with the spider’s web. To them, the fact that they can take that power or product is enough to make it right.
But what do the spiders think? They have less power. They can’t fight a hummingbird who zooms in and out faster than they can see, stealing an entire night’s catch and destroying the web in the process. Fight and flight (at least literally) are both impossible, so they are left to freeze…and perhaps starve.
This reflection has given me a fresh window into the power-differential aspect of the African American experience in this country, both before and after slavery was officially abolished. It has also helped me understand the plight of so many generations of women whose unacknowledged labor in the home was taken for granted over decades and centuries.
What do my hummingbird and spider ponderings bring up for you?
There are certain tribes of our indigenous people who share willingly : if you need something, say a horse for a particular job or reason and your neighbor has one, it is appropriate for you to “take it for awhile to meet your need” and you always return it. Your neighbor knows you will. You don’t necessarily ask; there is no negotiating. This concept is part of their culture. We would possibly label it borrowing. It is never considered stealing. This practice has always amazed me.
It is difficult for me to impose human interpretations and labels on animal behaviors. The hummingbird in the spider web possibly has other interpretations?
Thank you, Jane, for reminding me of the challenges of anthropomorphizing animals’ actions. I am aware of the indigenous history of borrowing and loaning, but hadn’t thought of it in these terms. Reflecting on your feedback, I find myself thinking about how much our cultures influence our behaviors and thus what we consider possible. Thank you for expanding my horizons yet again!
I am a vegetarian because I hate the idea of destroying the life of another but it is not possible to exist without negatively impacting some other form of life. Perhaps the best that I can do is to be aware of it and try to do the least harm possible and be grateful for what is possible. Was it Sartre who wrote that one cannot act without getting your hands dirty?
I wonder about the scripture about God’s Holy Mountain. What does this say about human yearnings.
Thank you for sharing your perspective, Jen. Your use of the word “destroying” got me wondering if perhaps “recycling” might be a better choice…because yes, everything we do has an impact on everything else. I think of the produce from my garden, and how some of it ends up back in the compost bin because of frost or pest damage, or overgrowth because I leave town for a few days. I think of the tradition amongst some Native Americans to thank every animal they kill for food. I imagine you’re thinking of Isaiah 11:9, and the ideal that “they shall not hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain.” Yes, we are a long way from that…and yet our bodies were created to consume other elements of God’s creation (whether meat or fruits). It is a paradox indeed. Thank you for your thought-provoking response!