Littlestar and I stood out on the deck, stepping over every few minutes to avoid the slowly moving blade of sunshine as it crept along the wood and ate the shadows. The day was hot.
I heard a sound. I thought a mosquito was in my ear and then changed my mind to identify it as a distant truck. It was a spitting, low-pitched but rapid thrumming that ramped and warbled in an irregular but tight cycle. It was a sound from out of this world -- belonging not in a leafy garden but in a television. It boggled my senses until Littlestar said:
"Do you see that hummingbird?"
On the rail of the deck was a plastic vial of red-dyed hummingbird ale, from which a hummingbird drank. The purr of its beating wings Dopplered back and forth as it hovered around the mouth of the container, sipping in dips and darts.
"I do," I said.
And for a moment before it left the bird regarded us with its tiny face, needle-thin beak disappearing in the frontal perspective leaving only two glittering eyes. It cocked its head, seemed to consider something, and then vanished when we blinked, its fading drone seeming to come from any direction and unfathomable in distance.
And so the hummingbird was gone. "You know," said Littlestar, "they look like little people when they rear up like that. I bet that's where faeries came from."
"I bet you're right," I said.
If I, a twenty-first century man of the West, find something unearthly you had better believe it's weird. I live in an age immersed in a constant soup of visual and aural phantasmagoria in which anything the imagination conceives can be rendered. Nevertheless, hummingbirds remain a unique example of some pretty fucked up shit.
Come evening we sat on the balcony, drinking wine and luxuriating in the coolness that had come with the sunset. Now in twilight the air had a strange colour, a shadowless gloom of pink reflected from the purple sky. In the field beyond our yard the bushes winked with little shooting stars -- lightning bugs!
We tried to point them out to each other at the same time.
The expanse of glimmering winks slowly grew as the strange light failed. They glowed in the air above the field, and over the grass of our yard. When the sky turned black they flew beneath the balcony, leaving drifting afterimage arcs in our vision like cloud chamber trails.
I never did see or hear any insect. The "bug" part of lightning bug is just something I know. It is an inexperienced fact which satisfies the curiosity that would otherwise grasp in awe of the bewilderingly beautiful phenomenon that is fireflies waggling their asses suggestively at one another.
Without this knowledge, the strange light of twilit summer evenings amid hummingbirds and fireflies would seem to be enchanted. From this point of view positing the existence of things like faeries, sprites, and hobgoblins seems like a rational defense -- an attempt to ground the experience in terms of nature (little creatures) rather than supernature (mystic energies). In other words, what seems to us today to be a magickal response may have in fact been the sceptics' choice of the day, in defiance of more esoteric explanations involving unearthly hosts.
Nowadays, of course, even the booger-sized computers at the heart of my toddler's talking toys have enough calculatory chutzpah to create a particle system with the same visual properties as a cloud of lightning bugs. But it isn't the same.
Wrapped in a warm blanket of facts and overstimulus, it is easy to become disconnected from wonder and thereby damned. It becomes hard not only to believe in faeries, but to even sympathize with someone who would without tainting it with pity. But we'd drop our smug quickly if the ancient man pitied us, for having lost something.
I am not a mediaevalist. I don't mean to celebrate ignorance, or to glaze history with rosy Vaseline. But I learned something in my back yard: even though I've seen Revenge of the Sith twice, a hummingbird is still a more memorable feast for the senses. And that a fleet of fireflies is better appreciated in the dark -- that is, when you don't know what they are.
Harder than believing in faeries is disbelieving in the twenty-first century, what with all its noise and hooplah and favourable reviews on consumer surveys. Being exceedingly modern is all the rage, and it is de rigeur to adopt a world-view that seems rational (or can at least be defended as such).
My question is this: what has rationality done for you lately?
Posted by Cheeseburger Brown at 13:17