As I do whenever I broach a not-totally-male topic, I must start by insecurely pointing out that I watch kung fu movies, drink lots of beer, and have fathered a human baby with a real woman, and I will only eat quiche if I’m allowed to refer to it as Egg Pie. I know the names of lots of cars, I like to start fires, and have more than one friend who rides a motorcycle. So I’m cool. Really.
That being said, I love hummingbirds.
My day job has become a life crushing whirlpool of despair, and I’m constantly on the lookout for things to break the despair-loop. In recent weeks, the hummingbirds have returned to my vast estate, and some of them hang out outside my office window. They’re really cool. It’s one thing I can always count on to really break my chain of thought and bring me “into the moment.”
I’m interested enough in them that I try to identify them and take pictures and stuff, but at the end of the day, they’re just amazing to stare at, and it doesn’t matter if you know a Rufous hummingbird from a Ruby Throated.
They have dogfights outside my window, and they chatter like R2D2. I’ve seen them perch in the tree outside my wife’s office to avoid a torrential downpour, I’ve seen them drink from our bird baths. Not to be too new-agey about it, but I get a geeky buzz whenever they’re close. I’m not saying they carry angelic crystal rainbow energy or anything, but I get a genuine charge from them. No matter how bad the workday gets, it’s a pleasant – if short – diversion to watch them do their thing, and I’d swear that a couple of them have nested in one of my locust trees.
So the antics are engaging, and after you start to identify the personalities of the regular visitors, you have a pretty good idea what to expect. I find myself appreciating the chance to see them do what they do even when it’s exactly what they did last time. I feel somehow lucky or privileged in the same way as when I’ve just seen a cougar or an elk or a sunset. (I saw a cougar in Cerrillos one time, that was pretty cool, too.)
The thing that really cemented it for me happened about a week ago, though. I was at a barbecue with maybe 10 other people, there were a couple dogs there and my daughter was running around. It was only a couple miles from here, so it was in one of those low-nighttime-light areas and the sunset was amazing. Shortly after the sun had dipped below the horizon and the lengthy dusk had officially begun, I started paying more attention to the humminbird feeder – if you have regular visitors, they get kind of hectic about squeezing in a last meal before dark, and I saw a couple buzz up.
The ones that visit my house are really pissy about sharing; there are 4 metal flower thingies they could drink from at once, but they all seem to want to be the only one eating, even when they appear to be a mated pair. At our friends’, though, they were more communal and you’d see 2 or 3 at once without any real issues except the occasional dogfight after they’d had their fill. In this case, there were 2, and I thought I could make out their coloring, a Rufous male and female. (If you haven’t seen one before, the Rufous hummingbird male is a bright copper color. They’re striking. The females are not so bright, but they’re beautiful, too. I’m going to try to dig up one of my pictures of them that’s good enough to show off the coloring.) They sat and drank together for probably a minute, a lot longer than they sit still in the House of Dogs where I live. Everyone else at the party was occupied, and nobody else seemed to care about watching the birds, so I was the only one watching.
In unison, the 2 hummingbirds slowly flew away from the feeder at the same time and stopped about 3 feet away. Then they got very close to each other and appeared to kiss each other, and they started spinning in a slow circle and rising into the air. Just slowly kissing and spinning in a circle until they were out of sight. Now I’m no hummingbirdologis, so I’m not sure that hummingbirds even kiss or that they really were a mated pair. For all I know, one of them got stuck in the other one – after all, they’re a lot like little lawn darts – and maybe the other one was spinning to try to get unstuck from the other one’s neck. But it was an amazing sight, and the voices from the party dropped away and all I could see or hear or focus on was the spiraling pair of birds. When they were gone, the silence remained for a second, and as the activity around me started to filter back in to my attention, I realized I was the only person who had seen the little show. In the middle of a small but lively party, nature had provided another subtly dramatic performance for me alone.
There’s that narcissism again – all of reality exists to serve me, and me alone!!!!. But it’s not different than that feeling you get when you notice a street lamp burning out when you’re walking in the city, and you realize you were the only person in the whole world who just saw it. One of a small handful at worst. In a big, homogenous world full of Targets and IHOPs, the idea that you’ve had something personal and unique happen to you and to you alone is a wonderful, selfish, indulgence. Humminbirds in a love (or death) spiral, street lights popping out just at the moment you look at them – little nothings. But when you experience those little nothings in a certain way, where you’re paying attention in a certain way, there’s no moment where you’re more alive. When your life flashes before your eyes, you don’t see material acquisitions or job promotions or “achievements,” you see those “little things” – dumb, meaningless moments that are neither dumb nor meaningless: the smell of newly mowed grass, a puppy you held once when you were a kid, a sunset walk that didn’t even seem that amazing at the time. So in the middle of career despair, hummingbirds are one of my neat “little things” these days. I’m hoping not to have any more near-death experiences for a little while, but if I do have one, I wouldn’t be surprised if a hummingbird moment snuck in there somewhere.
I love living here.