Recently, I finished rereading James Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time, along with a story about Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin wrote The Fire Next Time in the year of the centennial of Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1963, racism and its demeaning and murderous effects in our country had scarcely diminished in the intervening one hundred years. The Civil Rights Movement was growing as, after waiting so long for true freedom, the oppressed had had enough. In these readings, King and Baldwin wrote over and over that love is the only answer. We must love ourselves and one another. We still have a long way to go.
My thoughts have been focused on these readings and how badly love is needed at this time in our divided country and troubled world. A few very cold mornings ago while I was deeply pondering this, word of the appearance of a hummingbird not far from where I live arrived via email from two friends. The story entranced me and filled me with hope and delight, which I attribute to the proximity of what was churning my mind from these recent readings.
The sheer chance of the wee bird arriving here after several hard frosts, somehow finding a hummingbird feeder in the vast region of the Eastern United States, a filled feeder still left out in the winter, and furthermore the hummer being a species that is rare in this region, caused me to consider the event miraculous and brimming with more than ordinary meaning. In addition, the wee one had found just the right people to care about him and support his survival.
The tiny thing must have been buffeted and blown about, unwillingly riding the currents above the Rockies and the Western plains, perhaps twisted and turned as it crossed the Appalachians before it landed somewhere along the middle of the Eastern Seaboard. Perhaps its wild ride was due to its migratory signals going awry or, I have learned, it is even possible it chose to seek a safer spot in the East. Or, maybe it was caught in a not so gentle zephyr and spit out in an airstream it couldn’t get out of. We cannot know.
Not only had these friends left out a hummingbird feeder thinking there might be late stragglers, Eastern, of course, but they still had pineapple sage blooming! With its bright red tubular flowers, even someone like me, a plant person rather than a bird person, knows these flowers would be a favorite of hummers.
These friends being birders keyed out the little creature and identified it as a west coast Rufous hummingbird. They got in touch with a naturalist who came out, and added that it is a first-year male. My friends aptly named him Rusty, a less fancy word for rufous. They are in love with him and so I am even though I haven’t seen him in real life, just in the glorious photographs the naturalist took.
Consider that Rusty only weighs a little less than a teaspoon of sugar. If you look up Rufous hummingbirds, you will learn that their nesting grounds are in southern Alaska and a bit below and they normally winter in Mexico. They have a feisty nature as they have to fight hard for food. They are beautiful. To my friends, as they enjoy watching him through their windows, he is “a glimmering, flashy, moving Christmas ornament.” Maybe he will gift all of us again next year. I read that they remember food sources with remarkable accuracy.
As far as I am concerned, even one visit from Rusty is a gift that gives us hope and joy and feeds our sense of wonder. He showers our spirits with amazements and delights and teaches us to believe in miracles and to know love. And, taking the liberty of anthropomorphizing him, he is so brave and courageous. He clearly has a will to live. Keep at that feeder and catch lots of tiny winter insects, Rusty!
May all of you find some bit of rest, comfort, and beauty during this holiday season even as we pray for peace.
With many thanks to my care-giving friends and to photographer Mary Sonis.
Photos used with permission.
December 18, 2023