Reflections on the wonders of the world and universe

Not long ago, I watched a mother humming bird feed her baby. That night, I looked at pictures taken by the Hubble telescope of the still-expanding remnants of a star that exploded more than 900 years ago. And there are those who say the universe is finite.

I have come, in my late years, to believe that the sense of awe and wonder is a luxury indulged in chiefly by children and old people. During the in-between years, most of us are too busy surviving and procreating to have time to wonder.

One of the best things about being a “little old lady” is finding that the sense of wonder was not lost after all. It just got pushed aside. Now I have time and desire to reflect and wonder at what is really going on around me. Things that I took for granted are once again new and mysterious.

Forty years ago Rachel Carson wrote, “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us, that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.”

I wonder at the miracle of a humming bird weighing less than an ounce, which can fly nonstop 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. And in the same universe is an exploding star, 7,000 light years away, which was first recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054. Ounce for ounce, I wonder which is more powerful.

We live on the bottom of an ocean. The water has been gone for millions of years and the ocean floor is now desert, but remnants of the sea remain. When he was a little boy, my son John returned home from a hike on the desert with his pockets full of sea shells. Sea shells on the sea shore in the desert? I still wonder what our ocean looked like then, and how those tiny shells survived intact for several million years.

I still wonder that my last Siamese cat, Antigone, looked exactly like the stylized drawings of cats from ancient Egypt. How could a blood line stay so pure over 2,000 years? I wonder whether the conversation she shared with me daily at 5 a.m. was the same as that which one of her ancestors used to awaken Cleopatra.

I wonder at the three tiny crocuses that come up out of a patch of gravel before the snow is gone each spring.

I wonder whether there is really such an unbelievable animal as the giraffe, or whether it is, as I suspect, a figment of my imagination.

I wonder how a flock of geese (or is it a gaggle?) selects the front goose to lead the V, and whether they punish the poor bird that gets out of formation.

Some days I wonder whether the moon really is made of green cheese. Can there really be a pot of gold at the foot of that wonderful rainbow? Nah, probably not.

I wonder how two tiny, helpless infants became the two fine men who are my sons. Did it happen molecule by molecule or protein particle by protein particle? Or, as it seems to me now, did it happen in the blink of an eye?

Scientists have explained most of these things and I believe them. I am a rational soul. But the awe is still there, the sense of wonder.

Even today after all these years, I wonder how it all holds together — the tiny bird, the giraffe, the millions-of- years-old ocean, the planet itself — and all the stars out there. I wonder at its unbelievable beauty and mystery.

I agree with Rachel Carson and I would apply this to my beautiful brand-new great-granddaughter, Audrey: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world may be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”

Henrietta Hay can be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and on the web at


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