6:43 a.m. 46 degrees, wind SSW 4 mph. Sky: a steady, cold rain, the
haunting of a tropical storm, steadier and stronger as I walk; rain on
leaves loud enough to drown out whispering kinglets; chickadees barely
audible. Thoughts turn to squash and potato-leek soup. Permanent
In The Rain*. Wetlands: a soaked crow over the marsh, *Cawin' In The Rain*.
Pond: an empty and disturbed surface.
At the feeder: a flock of bedraggled purple finches; three females perch on
a tube-feeder, dripping; a male on a tiki torch patiently waits a
turn, soaked and silent. Two other males on the ground, join five doves and
two juncos, scavenge fallen sunflower seeds, which arrive as steadily as
the rain. Chickadees, titmice, and a white-breasted nuthatch grab seeds and
leave, back and forth from the cherry tree, no time to perch on the feeder.
Blue jays and a hairy woodpecker disperse purple finches, linger on the
feeder, unperturbed, immobile, unbound assurance . . . one seed after
another. Throats bulge, feathers matted like leaves.
In 1543, Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus drove a stake through the
heart of conventional thinking when he published *On Revolutions of
Celestial Spheres*, a radical view of the universe. For fear of upending
the church, which believed Earth was the center of the universe, Copernicus
delayed publication for two decades. There is *no* center to the universe,
he wrote. Nearly five hundred years later, we hold this truth to be
self-evident. For his part, Copernicus was excommunicated.
Charles Darwin, another critical thinker, showed us that humans do not
reside in the center of the universe, either. In fact, he included us in
the struggle of life with everything else. Like Copernicus, Darwin changed
how we see our world and ourselves; he delayed publication of *The Origin
of Species* for more than twenty years.
Yet even today, one hundred sixty-one years after *Origins *appeared in
print, a recent Gallup poll concluded that seventy-three percent of
Americans continue to reject Darwin's view of life. Forty percent believe
God created human beings in our present form within the last ten thousand
years; the other thirty-three percent believe we evolved over the past
million years with God's guidance. Twenty-two percent of Americans agreed
with Darwin (a slow, upward trend), the lowest total of any technologically
What exactly did Darwin say? Like Copernicus, he denied us special status.
Darwin perceived how species evolved from one to another using *natural
selection*, a process in which traits best suited for survival and
reproductive success are passed on to the next generation. A biological
arms race foraged in the furnace of natural selection. Humans are subject
to the same trials and tribulations as golden-crowned kinglets. Or put
another way, all life—past, present, future—conjoin into one big family, a
parade of species that reaches back more than three billion years.
*There is grandeur in this view of life*, wrote Darwin,* and that whilst
the planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from
so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have
been, and are being evolved.*
Like gravity, evolution is a *law*, not a theory.
At the tip of spruce twig, a kinglet hovers, scattering raindrops.