My hummingbird obsession is not news. However, it has recently taken a little bit of an unexpected turn. One which has led me to revise something which I thought was certain.

Outside our office, there are a number of trees where those beautiful little birds nest. I will always pause on my way in and out of the gate, to peer into the leaves and see what is happening in those nests. A couple of weeks ago, I was told that there were eggs in the nest and that the mother was keeping them warm. They would hatch in a few days, I was informed assuredly. Indeed, after a few days I saw eggshell on the ground and was told that I could very gently peep inside the leaves. Two wide open beaks stared back at me. Indeed, beaks can stare!


Over the following days, I would very gently peek in through the gaps in the leaves, making sure that my human eyes did not distress the rapidly growing birds. In no time, I learned that the little birds were almost ready to fly. They would fly on the Monday, in fact.

When I arrived at work the following Monday, I could see that the nest was indeed empty. The little birds had flown.

But the tale has taken an unexpected twist. In those few days while watching from a safe distance, I learned something new. I had been visiting friends, and they had bright flowers on their porch. The little hummingbirds, perched and manoeuvred to draw in the nectar of the brightly coloured flowers. I was enthralled by those “hummingbirds”. My friend showed me photographs she had taken of the same little birds, which she called “sunbirds”. I knew they were hummingbirds. She was equally certain they were sunbirds. Of course, I was right. So was she! Stalemate!

At such times, and in such times we are drawn to Professor Google. And my goodness, was I in for a surprise!

I have been completely wrong! In Ecuador, these little hovering birds were indeed hummingbirds and they have become iconic across the country. In Africa, however, despite the fact that they look remarkably similar, they are not hummingbirds. These little beauties are indeed sunbirds.

In appearance, they are incredibly alike.The males have metallic blue plumage which shimmers in the sun.

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In Ecuador and in Africa. They both hover.

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This little soul is hovering with all his might. So hard, that you can hardly see the blur that represents his little wings.

It seems that I am not the only one to become so confused between the hummingbird and the sunbird. From what I understand, the key difference (apart from the biological family differences) is that the hummingbird always hovers while it feeds. It can hover for a seeming eternity while drawing nectar fro the inside of a bloom. However the little sunbird, while it can and does hover, usually has to perch to gather its food.

However, that is what I truly learned from this. I was reminded that no matter how sure I think I am about something, I must be open to correction or rethinking. This is not about the sunbird. This is about how I view the world and my life. While I had been convinced that the birds I saw were hummingbirds, and my friend was equally certain that they were sunbirds, we both needed to be open.In my case, I also need to be corrected, because I was wrong!

The world around me is not as set and uncertain as I necessarily think. The universe is again shaking and shifting the ground underneath my feet. I need to revise and reset my vision of what I thought was my world. And that does not only apply to me. It is for each and every one of us. We just do not know what is certain and true.

Toastiness or Timeliness? In pursuit of conceptual clarity and certainty.

I wonder what the internet has done to my mind. In those days when we used to read, make phone calls, write letters and talk to each other, I wonder what were the stimuli for those cerebral wanderings which nowdays a Tweet or Facebook post prompts? Did I even have those wanderings? I am sure I did, I just wish I could remember their nature. Perhaps thanks to the internet, this particular train of thought has been prompted and allowed to take life. How much of our thinking is shaped and changed by the way we receive information in this day and age?

Yesterday, over breakfast I scrolled through the previous evening’s updates and Tweets and was taken by a Facebook conversation about toasters. Yep, toasters. Those handy little machines which churn out yummy toast at just the right level of toastiness according to our toastbuds.  Most of the time.

“So apparently the numbers on the toaster are minutes? I’ve thought for years that it was the degree of toastyness”

And there followed an outpouring of incredulity and shock at the exposure of one of those unshakeable and fundamental “truths”. There was indeed consensus that the numbers on toasters were widely believed to be settings of toastiness and obviously the higher the setting the toastier the toast would be. For the numbers to attribute to minutes was indeed a strange and disturbing thought.

So there followed, on my part, a deal of butterfly-type rumination of this new “truth” accompanied by a small amount of research thanks to Professor Google and sifting of my own memories. I have so many recollections of toast, whether it be too pale or burnt along with the acrid smell of burning.  I have more memories of bread under the grill, smoking, tiny flames flickering upwards as I had forgotten to keep my eye on it yet again.  And hazy memories of warm evenings in my childhood with a toasting fork in my hand, holding the carefully pierced bread over the low flames of the log fire, and producing perfectly brown toast.  After many attempts.

toastEventually, I realised that the question of toastiness and toasters was in fact a fairly shallow matter. The settings most likely relate to time rather than specific minutes. Obviously the longer the time, the more toasty the toast will be. Toast makers have presented this as a toastiness range though, and we have absorbed this as our reference. So the issue is not as earth-shattering as it might have been. But nonetheless, for a short time, and even for such a mundane and shallow matter, my truth and certainties were blown to the wind. And over a fact which I had not even registered as a fact in my mind previously.

And that is the essence of this discussion. There are so many tiny and not so tiny things which we assume to be true yet many are purely assumption and not based on any fact. Even the rocking of a small point of certainty disorients and disturbs. Many of our significant beliefs or assumptions, we do not even know we hold. I thought my parents would live for ever. I thought I would live for ever too. I believed that our family did not get cancer. Being diagnosed with cancer could not have been further from my radar. I had taken as assumption and turned it into a certainty, which was destroyed.

In the case of the toastiness question, I had in fact been deceived into believing for a short time that a fundamental truth had been compromised, where it turned out to be trivial and inconsequential. Sadly the same is not so for so many other truths and certainties which we hold.