No Hats: The Prayer Of The Virgin Condor
This is a very broad generalization about sports but I’ll say it anyway. Sports where there are hats involved are more explicitly about control of your opponent than the free flow of play.
This is not to say that there aren’t amazing and improbable and improvisational and miraculous things that happen in football or baseball or bull riding or hockey. There are, of course there are. There are so many highlight reels to demonstrate just this.
But sports where there are hats or helmets have safety as an overriding factor or a kind of professionalism as you’ll see in baseball when you are fielding.
In hat free sports there is a kind of burbling free flowingness that might even border on lack of control in an exciting way. You certainly see this in tennis and soccer and rugby, boxing and wrestling, surfin and parkour, skateboarding and jiu jitsu. But you also see it with outfielders in baseball who lose their hats when chugging after a ball that just got past them and they have to hustle to cut the ball off and throw ahead of the runner…and then they grab their grass bound hat and put it back on their head…everything is back in control.
The Toronto Raptors were an expansion team into the NBA in 1993. There were a bunch of possible names that were tested – Dragons, Bobcats, even T-Rex. But a huge hit movie had just come out called Jurassic Park and the surprise stars of the films were not the villain T-Rex but the swarming and intelligent velociraptors shortened to raptors.
And because of the movie rather than Raptor bones found in the hills outside of Toronto the team got its new name.
Jurassic Park is a classic summer blockbuster and I re-watched it sort of recently – it held up pretty well.
The plot doesn’t matter too much but the ‘science’ conceit of the film was that mosquitos that had sucked the blood of dinosaurs got trapped in amber and the scientists extracted that blood to clone it into dinosaurs. But the blood didn’t have all the DNA they needed so the scientists in the film put amphibian so called ‘junk’ DNA into the dinosaur DNA to give it its fullness.
In the film Sam Neill plays a behatted Dr. Alan Grant. When Grant first comes onto the island and gets into the helicopter that will fly him to the main compound he finds that his seatbelt isn’t functioning because he has two female ends of the belt – nothing to clip into the other end – and so when he fails to get them to connect because they can’t clip in he ties the belt around his waist in a knot as a makeshift solution.
Later in the film when they are actually hatching the cloned dinosaurs we find out that the scientists made all the dinosaurs on the island female so they won’t have a population overbreeding problem.
A bit like the seatbelts connections for Dr. Grant. All female.
And like Dr. Grant the dinosaurs ‘figure’ something out due to their amphibian DNA. Amphibians are noted to be able to change gender depending on environmental conditions. As Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Malcolm famously says in the film ‘life finds a way.’
It is at this point that things start to go awry for the characters in the film. The control that they seek to exert on their dominion represented by their hat wearing and if you re-watch the film you will see that hats start to fly off with the loss of control of the situations.
Why am I bringing all this up?
Condors. It isn’t just amphibians and reptiles that engage in the unusual, but definitely happens, virgin birth. Or fertilization of the ovum without male sperm, otherwise known as parthenogenesis. Birds do this too sometimes. Just a few weeks ago the Journal of Heredity revealed that two condors in the California condor restoration program did just this. Condors were perilously endangered in the 1980’s and so all the birds have been meticulously tracked. When scientists at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance were reviewing the birds’ genetic data, they found something that you’d never be looking for: two male chicks, known as SB260 and SB517, didn’t have genetic contribution from any males in the program.
Turkeys, chickens, and pigeons have been noted to have this happen rarely but when it has happened in the past it was when there weren’t any males around and that might explain how this might happen in the wild from time to time. These birds are not always shining specimens of avian glory (and such was the case with these condors) but they are a sign of life loving itself with such a feathered heart that it does this miraculous thing. But strangely these female condors had males around them. Mystery on top of mystery. Mysteries all the way down.
I’d like to think that these little jars of tallow that I send to you all are kind of a related mystery. The tallow had its first life in the field, and improbably some of that fat made it to me, and it has a second life in my house for a while in a jar, and a third life with you the reader of these words. I have prayed that they find third lives out there. Life finds a way. Maybe just as the ocean waves life keeps on lifing. Maybe. Might we proceed as if such a thing was so even if the evidence for such a thing isn’t entirely clear or persuasive.
Now it would be easy, but wrong in my estimation, to say that prayer is like dinosaur DNA in that they are ‘destined’ to come out because ‘Life (insert divine figure of of choice) finds a way.’ This is dangerous magical thinking in my view. In my estimation, and as far as I’m concerned, prayers are not rails that dreams are packed onto for a destinal fulfillment. Prayers might be more like paper boats floated down the oxbow at eventide. Standing by the river and a purpling sky, the trembling small boats float off, gentled into the water by a wishful hand. Floating for a while and then dimly turning the bend. Or seeds cast into the wind. May they find good soil. They may not. They may not land in your yard. They may feed the birds and not you.
But it might be closer to say that one might take your hat off at such mysteries and realize that we have, in innocence, put all sorts of obstacles to ‘life finding a way’ (whatever that life is) and that the unfolding of such lifings will not unfurl in a manner that we would, could or should predict. If we can make do with that then that might be a sign of something, wouldn’t it?
So if you have any prayers to make on this day, may they be unprotected to the mysteries that you cast them into or towards. No rails. No helmets. No hats.
You have been a kind of answer to mine.
Bless those condors.