But around and beneath and above and even within this place lies another, vaster place, which is wildness. The two places live side by side and intermingled. Sometimes that other country, that wild place, is distant and impossible to discover, and sometimes it is very near. Sometimes it encroaches. Sometimes it brushes by, lighter than a feather.
This summer we hung up a hummingbird feeder for the first time. We delighted all summer in watching the frequent visits of two female hummingbirds to the feeder -- so frequent that, if you just stood for a few minutes at the front door, you would see them there, all day, every day, without fail. Because they became so familiar I thought I was getting to know them pretty well.
But then, as summer was coming to an end, I met that young hummingbird up in the vegetable garden. At first, when I saw him sitting so still for several minutes at a time, I didn't have enough to go on. It didn't fit with what I had seen near the feeder. So I thought he might be sick or dying. Why was he allowing me to get so close? I began to spin a sort of hummingbird tragedy in my mind: the little bird, somehow left behind or blown off course as his relatives all flew away across the Gulf of Maine, now lonely and afraid and stranded in the vegetable garden. It's a pretty good story, and it could be true.
Or not. It could be that he was merely on his way, alone or more or less along with others, and had stopped to rest for a few hours before moving on. The day I saw him was both sunny and windy, not a good day for flying east against a strong westerly wind, but not a bad day for being close to the ground in a relatively protected sunny garden. It's possible that he was feeling perfectly confident and able to take care of himself, within the limits of being a very small bird with a great distance yet to travel. I did not need to invent pathos where none was required, there being a big enough supply of tragedy in the world already.
Until my tutorial in the vegetable garden, I had not known that hummingbirds sit for long periods of time, stalk their prey, blink, swallow, and unroll their amazing tongues, a skill I associated only with frogs and snakes. He was, though young, an excellent teacher.
But I still don't understand what I saw that day: where he came from and where he was going and why he had come to the garden. I expect there are interpretations that I even don't know enough to consider. I only know that for an hour he became a small portal into the vast wildness that surrounds us.