Tall mountains and quick birds

on Aug 1, 2019 in Hand Baggage | No Comments

1. The mountain

Jonathan is in South America and in the past, in his youth, he was fascinated with some of the tallest mountains that resided there. (When? When did the mountains take up the space? Or are the mountains now the space itself? ‘The mountains are now the space!’, Jonathan concluded to himself).

During his youth, Jonathan sometimes thought about climbing six thousand metres above sea level, the Tupungato volcano, in Chile, for example. Truth be told, due to his physical fragility, it was not possible; however, the impossible – if quantified – immediately seems to become extremely accessible. And the peak of the Tupangato volcano in Chile, on the border with Argentina, was quantified: 6,570 metres.

Anyway, Jonathan never climbed to the peak of Tupangato. For him, the impossible became a very concrete individual milestone. The impossible measures 6,570 metres.

Jonathan discovered that Tupangato means “window of stars” in the indigenous Huarpe language. In other words: the summit was an excellent place for the first astronomy studies.

Climbing over six thousand metres to study, climbing over six thousand metres to see – this seemed like a great metaphor to Jonathan.


2. Wisdom

But time went by and Jonathan became perhaps less ambitious, or rather, less meticulous.

Well, Jonathan is now in South America, not to climb six thousand metres, but to see a small bird at close quarters.

Indeed, Jonathan is fascinated by hummingbirds [beija-flores in Portuguese, which means flower kisser]; so, fascinated with a bird that seems to have the attitudes, or rather, movements of an insect. Why? Because it beats its wings at the same speed as insects do.


3. Insect and bird

What’s the difference between a bird and an insect? The most obvious one: beauty. Birds are from the world of beauty, said Jonathan, while insects are from the world of ugliness, in addition to sometimes making an unpleasant noise. A (visual) ugliness terribly worsened by aural ugliness, so to speak.


4. Kiss and food

It is said that the beija-flores are also known as pica-flores [flower pecker] said Jonathan, and this poses another question. What does it do to the flower? Is it a kiss or an assault?

An added detail: hummingbirds live off nectar. And the idea that a kiss is something that nourishes is interesting: the hummingbird kisses that which feeds it, said Jonathan. A kiss as something that keeps the bird from dying; a kiss as something that saves, said Jonathan in an almost emotional tone.


5. The hummingbird

Well, said Jonathan, mountains no longer interest me, now the subject is smaller, but much quicker. The hummingbird is the subject: it beats its wings 200 times a second, according to certain sources. Other sources mention just 80 times. This alone is considerable. And, on top of this, it beats its wings to remain almost still in front of flowers. As if beauty required immobility before it, but an immobility achieved through great effort, Jonathan murmured.

– An immobility at two hundred movements a second, that is breakneck immobility, added Jonathan.

Thinking about a kiss that requires colossal energy, a movement of some kind, repeated two hundred times in a second.

The fact is that, as the hummingbird beats its wings 200 times a second, a speed much faster than the human eye can detect, “it uses a lot of energy” and means that it “needs to eat up to eight times its own bodyweight per day”. An apparently useless natural motor, or at least highly inefficient, said Jonathan.

On the eve of creating the world, someone who organised nature could have said to the hummingbird: instead of beating your wings 200 times a second, for example, beat them just 20 times a second (almost the speed of cinema images per second). That way, dearest hummingbird, you would only need a tenth of what you eat today.

The greater the necessity, the less freedom there is, said Jonathan. Beat your wings less if you want to be freer, Jonathan also said. And it seemed a brief and almost fair parable to him.


by Gonçalo M. Tavares


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