September 16, 2013

The Gift of a Hummingbird.

There is a beautiful little treasure in my dining room hutch that has traveled with me for almost 20 years.

I have moved with it at least six times, and each time, it survives intact and unblemished. With each move, I take care to wrap it in paper and place it in a box until it can be unpacked again. This treasure, a hummingbird nest, is precious to me for it comes with a story—a story that serves to remind me of certain truths I continue to work on making my own.

A number of years ago, I lived in a house next to which grew a row of large pine trees. The trees belonged to my neighbor, but many of the branches grew over my driveway.

One of the boughs hung low enough for me to notice one day a tiny nest built in the crook of a branch. I had never before seen such a perfect little nest. The base of the nest was built around three thin branches, and it was covered in papery birch bark and lined with downy soft fluff.

In this nest, sat a hummingbird. I was thrilled at this discovery!

I looked forward to watching my own nature show, as time would reveal the life within the nest.

It soon became apparent the hummingbird had laid two eggs, and it seemed the fuzzy babies appeared almost overnight. Every time I left the house or arrived back home, I peeked at the nest from a distance that was comfortable for the mother hummingbird. She fed from the feeder hanging from the eave of my house, and was quite brave in her demanding curiosity whenever I took it down to refill it.

Sometimes, she would hover inches from my face as I stood on the brick wall to remove the feeder, almost as if she were asking me what I was doing with it and just how soon I would be putting it back.

I already admired the huge personalities these teeny creatures all seemed to have, and would often laugh at their bossy ways and screechy, scolding chatter.

When my neighbors told me they wanted to remove all of the pine trees, I made sure they knew about the hummingbird nest, and asked if they would wait until the babies were gone before they cut the trees down. Thankfully, they agreed, and I was immensely relieved, though saddened by the thought of the trees going away.

More than anything, I was anxious to know the family of hummingbirds would be safe.

One night, we had a windstorm—winds were howling around the house and whipping the tree branches. All I could think of were those hummingbirds, and I checked on them throughout the night with a flashlight, so fearful I would find a tiny feathered carcass underneath the branches.

Each time I went outside, I would see, in the beam of the flashlight, the mother hummingbird clinging to her nest, with her two babies under her, riding out the windstorm. The branch that held her nest was literally waving up and down, and it felt to me as if the storm lasted for hours.

And each time I checked on her, I wondered what she might be feeling.

Was she afraid, and wondering how long these winds would last? Or was she accepting of the storm, patiently riding its winds, and taking comfort in feeling her babies by her side?

In the morning, I was so relieved to find all three hummingbirds seated safely in their now quiet nest, and I marveled at the mother’s strength.

Photo: Paul Marto on Pixoto

Such a tiny creature, and she had braved what could be compared to riding stormy seas in a rowboat.

How tightly had she clung with her tiny claws to avoid being thrown from her nest, so she could shelter her babies from the storm?

How tired was she, from expending so much energy for so long, when hummingbirds must feed frequently, or slow their body’s metabolism into a restful, inactive state, in order to survive even one night?

It was not long after that the babies grew more feathers and were old enough to fly away.

I was worried about the mother, or another hummingbird, using the nest again before the trees would be cut down, so I called the Lindsay Wildlife Museum for advice—they suggested I remove the nest to ensure it would not be used again.

I cut the branch that held the nest and gently took it down.

Once I had the nest in my hands, I marveled all over again at its perfection. But I also could not believe such a finespun little cup made it through that storm. The top edges were so delicate, they fluttered with my breath, yet the base was solidly built.

It hardly seemed big enough to fit all three hummingbirds, yet it had delivered them through that wild night.

I imagined how many hours the mother hovered over the branch as she added each bit to her nest in preparation for her babies.

I think about her sometimes, when I look at her beautiful nest, and remember her strength.

Her size belied her tenacity and courage. To me, she exemplified an acceptance of the storms in life—we cannot control when they happen or how long they last. They are simply a part of the journey, and we would be better served by riding them out than trying to fight their existence.

We can create a haven for ourselves, but not spend all our time locked away in a fortress. Let’s not waste today’s warm sun and gentle breezes by dwelling on the turmoil of the night before.

Perhaps I am guilty of anthropomorphism when thinking about the brave little bird, but I don’t much care. In her, I see my own small stature, and ask myself, “shall I assume I have the strength?’ rather than doubting I have what it takes to make it through a difficult time.

Maybe it’s okay to be small and tough, delicate and brave, fragile and fierce.

I shall try to practice acceptance of both the calm and stormy times, embrace the gift of living in presence and take comfort in the nearness of my loved ones  and the warmth of my nest, while also accepting the potential transience of it all, which makes each moment even more precious.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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