In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

remembering a hummingbird

This place where we live is a small patch that for a couple of centuries now people have been making into their own. Its house, stone walls, crumbled cellars, apple trees, wells and old fields are evidence of the long-ago work of domesticating a bit of acreage on an island filled with bogs and rocks and forest and surrounded by the sea. It's a project we embrace, most days.

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.


Hazel said...

Anne, Hummingbirds perch and digest after feeding so maybe that's what this one was doing. Usually by mid-September, almost all of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating through from farther north, and not the same individuals that you saw in the summer. They migrate when the hours of daylight decrease not because of low temperature or lack of food. The adult males migrate first, then the immature and females.

Isn't it fascinating to watch them?

HARRISON H said...

Years ago, many now, my grandmother Howeth, had once told me, after a snake had scared the daylights out of me, not to worry, that they, and sometime the Robins, would carry the soul of deceased ancestors, usually the ones we loved or loved us, and were here to 'keep an eye on us'. I have noticed lately that Robins, when I am in the yard, seem to 'follow' me around, looking.