'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

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Friday, 10 February 2012

Questions about Sparrows and Non-Sparrows

Do the sparrows know it's me that puts the old crusts and muffins out for them? I mean, do they really know?

I know they appear when I go out the back door. But is it just a conditioned association? Have they not simply learnt that food appears shortly after I do?
Why do they scold and chirrup in that distinctive way as if they are asking for me to throw some crusts up on the studio roof?
If a member of a stone-age tribe once noticed a certain type of bird, and then afterwards there was a particularly benign winter, they might have associated the benignness with the bird, and called it 'The Benign-Winter Bird", and then later "The God of Good Winters". Is it the same?

If the appearance of the Bird means Benign Winter, then is it not a short step to trying to attract the Bird in order to create a benign winter?

If the sparrows do attribute the food to my hand, am I a god to them? Do they have a religion? Is it "All hail the mighty Katherine-Woman-Who-Brings-The Food"? Are the distinctive chirrups them singing hymns to me?

What about the people trying to please the Bird? Seems to me that that is dependent on the human attribute of compassion: They know that they are more likely to do something if they feel altruistic, therefore the Bird will be more likely to make a good winter if it is pleased with... birdseed? Virgins?

Do birds feel altruistic? I don't think so. So I doubt I will be offered any fledgelings as sacrifices any time soon.

Hang on... Elephants hang around their dead ones... dolphins rescue people and each other. Do dolphins have religions? What about dogs? Dogs like us and seem to care. Do dogs have Gods?


  1. Whoa! Hang on there Katherine. Apart from making the seeking of the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything look simple I suspect that you are not going to be satisfied with the answer 42. Any time that you have a week to spare I'll happily, very happily, discuss the existence or otherwise of an imaginary friend with you. On the other hand, given our respective brain-powers perhaps I'll just roll over and let you (metaphorically) tickle my tummy!

  2. You think it will only take a week? :-)

  3. I suspect that I'd have exhausted my mental capacities before a week had expired. Mind you I'd enjoy the trying.

  4. Dog is just god spelt backwards. And if we were to spell "bird" backwards it would say "drib" which is not a god I have ever heard of. But I am also puzzled about our relationship with birds. They were here long before us and probably know life better than we do.

  5. The great Ethel Waters sang "His Eye Is On the Sparrow and I Know He's Watching Me" but so far I have been unable to find a song called "His Eye Is On the Non-Sparrow and I Know He's Non-Watching Me" or one called "His Eye Is Not On the Sparrow and I Hope He's Not Watching Me"...I'm just sayin'.

    The dolphins may not have a religion but they do have a porpoise in life.

  6. Yes YP. Birds are, as my son reminded me the other day, dinosaurs. They've been around a lot longer than us!

    Robert: Um, yes. I think. Re dolphins: Groan.