Wednesday, July 21, 2010
One hand was wrapped around the stems of full-headed, fragrant phlox, the other held scissors. My bare feet cooled in the grass as I leaned in to gather Shasta daisies and purple spikes of catmint for a fresh bouquet to fill my new favorite vase. A telltale buzz of wings told me one of our resident hummingbirds was in search of food.
She zoomed by my head and went straight for the bee balm only to be confronted by another buzzing blur of tiny avian energy. As they faced off just feet from my now frozen body, I got a glimpse of emerald Oz green feathers and a tiny ruby spot on her throat. The attacker was more rust, less glitter, a male deciding he wanted the whole flower bed for himself. They chased each other across the yard into the trees. She returned alone just seconds later.
She worked the bee balm and the lipstick plant, back and forth, with me doing my best to be invisible in between. At one point she hovered, looked me right in the eye - I was sure she was going to sample the flowers in my hand - then continued dipping her tiny pollen-coated beak into each tiny magenta flower of the lipstick plant at my feet. Finally sated, she whirred away, leaving me standing in awe.
The hummingbirds this summer are tamer and more abundant than I remember from previous years. They fly right up to our faces, hover over the big bird feeders like children in search of playmates, do raucous three-way battle in the air almost close enough for us to grab them from the sky. We sit on the patio in the afternoons and admire their Lilliputian bodies in a constant swaying dance from fuschia bud to fuschia bud, impossibly small feet tucked into thumb-sized bellies.
One of my favorite children's books, Peter and the Starcatchers, a story of how Peter Pan came to be Peter Pan, explains Tinkerbell as a magically transformed hummingbird. It's almost impossible now to observe one without thinking of her. The spirit. The feisty attitude. The unimaginable energy.
I have a faded memory of my mom telling a story of a hummingbird that landed in my small girl hand when we lived in Montana in the time before hope died. I would have been five or four, maybe three. This woman who rarely spoke in stories, let alone happy ones, seemed to find great pleasure in this one. She couldn't quite get over how tame the bird was, how calm I was, how comfortable we seemed with each other. At some point she grew concerned it might poke my eye out and shooed it away. Every time she told the story I tried my hardest to remember the feel of a nearly weightless spark of glittering magic in my hand. I never could.
Edith Wharton is often credited with the quote, "I dream of an eagle and give birth to a hummingbird." As I heard the story, she meant to illustrate how difficult it is to turn brilliant ideas into powerful words on the page. I get the idea, but love the picture of eagle transformed to hummingbird too much to be able to connect with the thought that anything lesser is occurring.
As small as it's possible for a bird to be, smaller than some insects, hummingbirds possess a powerful, compelling presence that no eagle could ever match or beat. Lighted gemstones adorning summer flowers, tiny flames burning the air, wonder propelled by whirring wings. Magic measured in ounces, like fairy dust.
Top photo, mine. Bottom photo from Flickr.