Learning from the Least of These


In the gray of early dawn, a battle erupted on our front porch. The hummingbirds are thickest at this hour, whizzing in from the apple and pear trees to sip at our feeders. Though both of our feeders each have five drinking stations, however, it is rare to ever see two coexisting on the same circular perch. Instead, one bird zooms in, hovering near before perching on the feeder, furtively snapping its head from side to side, alert to intruders at what must surely be his feeder. No sooner does he skittishly alight and lower his head to drink then a second bird zips in, charging the first, their wings buzzing in fury. A third bird darts in from the left, and the three slice the air into ribbons, flying furiously fast, narrowly missing each other in midair like reckless dive bombers. One, hungry, hovers in place, his wings a blur on either side of his tiny suspended body, then swoops to a feeder. He perches for less than a second before buzzing off to beat off the advances of another thirsty bird. By now the air is alive with swishing aerialists, some suspended face to face, chattering challenges, using their long slender beaks like epees, slashing at the space between them. Occasionally there is an actual midair bluster, one’s wings clashing with another’s, a fluttered beating. All the while there is constant, frantic movement, so rapid that our eyes cannot follow it all, so erratically shifting that they can zoom by our ears, nearly brushing our cheeks, then suck air into perpendicular flight, hover, dart, chase in swooshing arcs.

The goal in all this frenzy seems to be to obtain breakfast, yet this is what happens least. As often as not, they feed on the fly, not perching but beating the air, thrusting needle beaks into yellow plastic pop rivet flowers, sucking syrup through the straws of their beaks for only seconds before jerking away to slash at a new arrival. Perch. Flash away.  Angry chatter streaming after a buzzing body like an unfurled banner over Daytona. Frenzied flight. 

If I were Edward Taylor, this would be the point at which I would pause to say, “This frey seems thus/to us,” or, Hawthornesque, I could neatly enumerate the symbolic associations: “in their self-absorption they seem to represent . . . ” But it already seems too obvious, too easy to read the lesson from these self-defeating battalions zinging across the gazebo. Easy to interpret, less easy to apply.ImageImage

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