Monday, August 30, 2010

Farewell to Sweetness

The last time I communed with the ruby throated hummingbirds, I lived on Pocket Mountain. That was four summers ago. Oh, I tried, but circumstances prevented the annual ritual of hanging the hummingbird feeders during the explosion of lilacs and apple blossoms and observing them until September, when they migrate to Central America.

When we lived on Carter Mountain, I hung the feeders on the apple tree where Miles would stand as still as possible for a ten-year-old boy and observe them from within a few inches. He didn’t even flinch when the black flies – later replaced by mosquitoes – swarmed around him. I tried it myself and marveled when the tiny miraculous creatures dipped their long beaks into the fake flowered openings in the feeder.

My other children – younger and wigglier – didn’t have the patience of standing motionless for extended periods until we lived on Pocket Mountain. Witnessing a hummingbird that close changes you. It becomes a spirit fulfilling custom.

I was at a loss when I started traveling. I spent the past three winters on the Southern Gulf of Mexico. The first thing I did was go on the internet and get a list of plants that would attract hummingbirds. I was excited because I read that there were three species where I was living; the rufous, black chinned and ruby throated. I braved the spiders and even saw a few unusual (non-poisonous) snakes and planted my new garden.

Disenchanted, my wildly colorful garden and feeders did not attract a single hummingbird; however, my disappointment was quickly replaced with gratitude and exhilaration when butterflies of various sizes, patterns and colors frequented the backyard. I spent a great deal of time thumbing through my butterfly guide and appreciated the alternative offering from Our Mother.

Last summer, when I lived outdoors on pristine Duncan Lake, I was captive audience to the ruby throated hummingbirds that frequented the wildflowers on the shores. This experience was a bit different, as I was not observing them physically as close as I typically did when I hung feeders near my house. I watched their silhouettes in the ochre twilight as they awakened me to their presence with the sound of their humming wings. Then, I would sit in my worn canvas chair and watch their dance until the final curtain of the evening fell upon us.

This spring upon my return to New Hampshire, I rummaged through boxes of miscellaneous randomness until I found the green glass feeder that hung desperately on the Gulf Stream Waters without so much as a glance. I cleaned it, filled it with nectar and hung it under the eave of the open front porch. The yard – a stunning palette saturated with sweetness – burst with well-established perennials, herbs and wildflowers. The tiny miracles descended upon the feeder in less than an hour.

Their presence owned me. I could not pass by without looking or listening for them. There were two pair that I could almost distinguish and they soon trusted me. I sat on the porch in my canvas chair, waited, and watched out of the corner of my eye. When one zoomed in, I sat without movement cherishing our closeness.

One male often flew to the nearby clothesline and bobbed his head back and forth, looking at me and then away, at me and then away, until he bravely zeroed in on the feeder. Sometimes they came in and rested on the pine boughs near the steps. I was hopelessly distracted from whatever I should have been doing.

Every morning I sipped my coffee with them, celebrating the emergence of each dazzling blossom only to move on when it shrivels away leaving seeds for the next season.

Although I know it is coming, I dread the morning when there is no whirring of fast beating wings amongst fading flowers, no trusting and perching above me on the feeder, which now hangs abandoned under the eaves. I feel a spark of hope at the sight of the still vibrant pink phlox that they liked the day before. I will wait one more day.

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