Friday, September 27, 2013

Close Encounter with a Hummingbird: Adventures in Flowerland



It began as usual with something snagging my eye and dragging it after the rapid flight of what my mind took to be an ominously large insect, a maxi-bee or perhaps a dragonfly. And which on closer examination became a creature probing and darting, rapidly and methodically, into blue flowers just a few feet away from where I stood, converted into shadow by the stalwart September sun. My mind caught up and recognized the hummingbird.
            The tiny bird's green tinge was pronounced. I've recently been told what this meant: a female. Ah, so I may properly use the pronoun "she" for this fast-moving, tensely concentrating, all-business creature that manages the business of survival in a subcompact bird-size. Has there ever been another feathered animal nearly this small?
            She plied her trade in the most systematic way imaginable. Something attracted her interest to a patch of plants growing close to the patio pavement where I stood enjoying the late morning sun in a universe of light -- a better place than we ordinarily inhabit, a better place than human beings will ever achieve on our own, and yet it opens its gate, day after day, for those of us willing to stick our head inside and look... But whatever drew her close lost out at once to a pair of flowering "anise hyssop" plants I wedged into an otherwise busy spot that turned green in late summer, their blossom days mostly gone, in my ceaseless appetite to produce more late summer color. As far as the anise hyssop is concerned, it's still summer. Besides, this is one of those Septembers that if not exactly endless summer all the way through (night temps dropping to the forties) most of us would wish to last forever.
            It hasn't been a 'saying-goodbye, back to school' month. It's been more of a 'here-forever' sense-surround month. It's a month of identical dream-like, light-filled days.
            The hummingbird harvested the anise hyssop blossoms (plant photo, top left ) as methodically as a human being, say, would pick berries. It probed and drove her proboscis into each of the funnel-shaped violet blossoms, darting quickly from one to another, from stem to stern so to speak, leaving one thoroughly explored clutch for the next: Here was a bird in a hurry. One gets the impression that the hummingbird is always a bird in a hurry. Maybe  a species of this size feels it's just not safe to linger exposed to view, backlighted by the attractions of a colorful world of flowers. A bird that loves color, but knows beauty is dangerous. It's just not safe to linger and, so to speak, smell the flowers.
            You don't smell them when they're lunch. When your flowers are your food. And you are gathering your nectar where you may.
            As I watched I kept thinking that the bird would give me the eye, demand "what are you doing there?" in a startled tone, and beat a hasty removal. But it did not see me. I was a shadow. A vertical sort of presence, a conical shrub maybe, still rather than moving. Happily, I am good at still. The hummingbird worked up one plant and down another, darted back, back-pedaled so to speak in that copterish hovering way of theirs, to make sure she hadn't missed anything. Then checked out the heart of a neighboring plant, a buccaneer plant with blue flowers, but not the right kind apparently, found nothing to interest her there, and darted away to the other end of the garden where, unfortunately, no late-summer abundance of blossoms existed to hold her.
            Why does the bird hunt and gather and explore so thoroughly? Was she as hungry as she looked? Is she storing up calories (it is hard to say "fattening up" for so tiny a creature) in preparation for a long trip. I have been told, though it is hard to credit, that hummingbirds migrate long distances.
            Afterwards, I was tempted to go to the garden center and stock up on anise hyssop.
            Every mind longs for beauty. The more the creatures that grow or fly, made of earth or feathers, become themselves, reveal their souls to us, the more we long for them.
            They are all our flowers. I bend toward them, in spirit.