The most crucial thing to note about fascism is that it doesn’t need thinking. That’s why, be it in Germany or India, fascist thought failed to inspire or include any brilliant mind. The only brilliant thinkers during Hitler’s regime were the suffering Jews and anti-fascist Germans. Barring Martin Heidegger’s momentary mad folly, those whom Nazism could inspire were merely henchmen in thought and practice. In India, all that Savarkar and Golwalkar did was to define India as a nation as strictly as possible, borrowing Western intellectual sources, so that Muslims could have no claim over it. Thinking in reverse, having fixed your conclusions in advance, is the martyrdom of thinking.
I have been fascinated by hummingbirds ever since I was given a pack of wild animal cards in hospital while my tonsils were removed and fell in love with Heliothrix aurita, a speck of fire and jade. And also wine-red Topaza pella, perched in a jungle whisking a crimson tail.
I still have those cards. Their pictures seem crude now, but when I was eight I was enraptured. The Aztecs said the Earth’s first flower was fathered by the god of poetry in the shape of a hummingbird; and everything about hummingbirds seems tailor-made for a poet.
Birds see ultraviolet light, and female hummingbirds have a taste for iridescence, so males have turned themselves into flying jewels. Their metallic sheens, glancing as soap bubbles, are reflected in equally iridescent names for which taxonomists have plundered all the shimmer in the lexicon.
There are more than 300 species: words such as emerald, copper, bronze, gold, fire, sapphire, lazuline, emerald and sunbeam spill like Aladdin’s treasure through the list: amethyst woodstar, blue-headed sapphire, Brazilian ruby, buff-winged starfrontlet – you marvel not only at nature’s capacity for spangly variation but the human urge to match it in language.
Hummingbird nests – the size of a nutshell, spun out of plant down, covered with lichen, bound by spider’s silk – are works of art straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hummingbird tongues, almost transparent, are liquid-trapping miracles of bioengineering that change shape as they flick in and out of the nectar. Their tips are forked: the V’s inside edges have feathery tufts that draw in nectar by capillary action. When hummingbirds sleep they fall into hibernation-like torpor. Metabolism drops, temperature zooms to near-hypothermic levels and breathing slows so drastically that if you find a sleeping hummingbird you think it’s dead. Which, in the Peruvian Andes, makes it a symbol of resurrection.
I came before I ever read Walden. I came during my reading of Walden, and after my reading of it. I understood that no degree was required and none conferred. I recognized it as a place in which to have the Thought of That Place.
I thought of the author as the-one-ahead.
I acknowledged the being-there-before-me of others. I understood that’s what Humanities means—the being here before, and after me, of others.
At first I treated the gone-cabin as destination: promenade to its halfwayness around the Pond. I noticed the different nouns for what had stood there: “Hut.” “Cabin.” “Site.”
And where the non-agreement of these terms converged stood a cairn, commenced by Alcott. I heard my thrown stone make the abacus sound. I heard the sound of my amounting: a“finger among fingers.”1
I called the other fingers, “tourists.”
I called the other fingers, “fieldtrips.”
How many wildernesses are entered mentioning the one man—and that one person not be discoverer of anything, or founder of anything, and that one person not be victor of anything? A sometime poet and pencil-maker. A tax-evader and walk-taker. A Harvard grad and a handyman.