Humano Sapiens is on top of the food chain, exterminator of all competing primates, most recently Neanderthalensis. Its weapon is brains. Had dinosaurs not been destroyed by a meteor, might they have achieved intelligence, or one of the pachydermata (elephants), or panthera (big cats) or cetaceans (dolphins and whales), to become the planet's top predator? I don't think so because they are all too physically adapted to need it. Clumsy proto-humans cowering in caves, no match for bears or boars or hyenas, desperately needed an equalizer—intelligence.
Yet many animals including humankind have a capacity for empathy, even across species. Dogs and cats are not always enemies [see photo, left above, Mitt Romney's dog], and when species barriers are crossed, a magical world appears. Elizabeth and I entered it when she adopted a baby sparrow that had fallen from its nest.
Elizabeth installed him in an old canary cage. He would hop from its perch onto her finger and she would draw him out through the always left open door. And she taught him to fly. Perched on her finger, she'd lower her hand and his wings reflexively opened, until one day he rose and flew across the room. His world was now our whole apartment yet he stayed in the front room and returned to his cage every night.
Elizabeth gave music lessons in the front room. Pooh would land on a student's head. Some found this unsettling, asking, "What happens now?" or "Am I about to be pooped on?"
Weekends we usually went to New Jersey, taking Pooh in his cage, letting him fly in our enclosed porch. But it was our Manhattan apartment he considered home, and as Summer became Fall, he settled in as family. Elizabeth's students became used to having him on the head or a shoulder, which she never allowed to interrupt a scale or melody being practiced.
As Winter became Spring, Pooh found a cranny on the flange of a steam pipe where it rose into the front ceiling, and with of scraps of paper, thread, and knitting wool supplied by Elizabeth, built a nest. I had assumed nest-building needed the presence of a female, but Pooh, a male said Dr. Schaubet, completed this project on his own. We proudly pointed it out to visitors.
New York summers can be hot, but fearing Pooh would fly out, we dared not open a window. Before leaving one stifling day Elizabeth cracked one half an inch, and when we returned, Pooh was gone. We tacked signs to nearby telephone poles,. Next day a neighbor breathlessly told us that she'd been walking along and a sparrow flew beside her, no more than two inches from her ear.
And that was the only word we ever had about Pooh. He had somehow squeezed himself back into that hard world from which he had come. Did he learn to survive in it? We hoped so, but doubted it. Nevertheless, in a world consumed by hate and misery, Pooh showed us that we are also embedded in a vast web of love, We left his dear little nest in our front room for years.