"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hummingbird Tales

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.


Carol............. said...

Beautifully written!

I especially like your last post...can identify with many of the feelings and learning lessons that life offers us if we are willing to learn...maybe not learn at that exact moment but later in time.

You have such a gift!

Wanda said...

Of course, the hummingbird landed in your hand. Of course.

Jan said...

"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 love this whole paragraph. The small girl hand, the time before hope died, your mom's pleasure and wonder and admiration for you.

It's those memories that built your strong foundation, I think.

And, of course, I love your garden!

patti said...

Your blog posts are LIKE NOVELS--a hook, beautiful imagery, a lesson.

Sigh. Thank you for reminding me to call my mother today.

Oh, did I mention subtle parable, moral premise?

You're a keeper.

Niki said...


Wanda..... said...

I could visualize the happenings myself, Deb and smell the wonderful fragrance of the Phlox!
We have similar looking flower gardens!

My granddaughter(7) would like to read "Peter and the Starcatchers", so I will look for it! Thanks!

Jessica Nelson said...

They're so pretty! I wish I saw more of them.

Terri Tiffany said...

I feel like I can taste your words--they fit perfectly for the scene you are conveying to us. I read for the pleasure of the music in your sentences:)

Carrie Link said...

"The hummingbirds this summer are tamer and more abundant than I remember from previous years. "

You, too.

M said...

More evidence of our conversation yesterday...you ARE a writer!! I loved this. And you.


patricia said...

In the time before hope died.... love that phrase. A wonderful memory from your childhood that you can connect to the present. I think connections like that are from God, to remind us how far we've grown.

Angie Ledbetter said...

How lovely. I'm a hummer lover too, but they've been scarce the last few seasons here. But I've got one tattooed on my ankle, so always have one with me. :)

Jerri said...

"in the time before hope died."

"tiny flames burning the air, "

"Magic measured in ounces, like fairy dust."

Your talent, my friend, is measured is metric tons.

kario said...

There is a Mojave legend that says that hummingbirds are responsible for finding the light world in which we humans now live. I think it's no accident that they are more abundant for you this year.


Katie Gates said...

As I hit the button to enter this comment page, my thought was "Beautifully written!" I see that Carol, who commented first, beat me to the punch. Now I must read the previous post, which I glanced at quickly a moment ago... Wow! Your writing is really something.

patti said...

Came back to read it today...again got "the flutter."

The Never Fairy said...

I didn't like Peter and the Starcatchers, at least not in the sense of it being a story of Peter Pan. Peter already had a backstory written by Barrie and this is nothing close to it. What's more, the Barry/Pearson novels have a TON of mistakes in them as compared to Barrie's original tales. How they can be so disrespectful of a fellow author and classic literature is mind-boggling. They're borrowing these characters and world... they can't go making fact-checking mistakes and changing the very thematic nature of Pan's eternal youth! No thanks.

There is a faithful Peter Pan adventure... based on Barrie's own notes for more... check it out:

There's also a great 'What if?' story for Wendy: Click!


Midlife Jobhunter said...

A very satisfying essay to read. Lovely.

We're all writing about birds this week. What's with that? Must be that time of the summer.

fullsoulahead.com said...

Oh! This is gorgeous.

I'd never heard the Tinkerbell/hummingbird story before. Love it.

My grandmother loved hummingbirds and they will forever hold a special place in my heart.

So glad you got to hold one.

Kathryn Grace said...

So beautiful--the image, the phrasing, the pictures you spin in my mind-vision. Thank you. Thank you, too, for sharing the story of the hummingbird lighting in your hand. What a blessing.

Sams and Carson, of the Medicine Cards book, characterize the hummingbird as a messenger of joy, and that is the spirit of this post.

Tammy said...

You held it again just now.

Lorna said...

I love your writing Deb! It really is beautiful. Hummingbirds are a personal favorite :)