What inspired me to hang the humming bird feeder in the crab apple tree, early August? Maybe the dismal showing of those helicopter birds during my stint at the North Shore/Lake Superior? It was such a cold spring, then summer, here in St. Paul, and north too, near Lutsen town. Hummers had stalled, no doubt, further south. When I hung the feeder on the deck facing the Big Lake, mid-July, it took days for any to find it–probably still raising broods. Finally when one or two showed up, they were so skittish, they disappeared if even a shadow flickered nearby. Then distracted by a house-mouse invasion, I lost track of hummers.
What I really know about humming birds could make ten drops of red liquid in a hummer feeder. Why they are attracted to red, I don’t know. How far south they migrate, I don’t know. Why they like northern Minnesota for summer baby-making, I can only guess since red flowers don’t predominate in the mid-summer landscape. More like gold and pink–golden rod, golden tansy and sunflower varieties, pink roadside roses, pink fireweed. Why hummers are so feisty when they’re so small, and have never heard of Napoleon, I don’t know. But for sure, they are fast.
By early August I’d installed the feeder in the crab apple tree just beyond our backyard deck. Finally the weather was warm, even hot. Cloudless days when I walked early morning because it got too hot in the afternoon. Plenty of chickadees, in fact more than I’d ever remembered, ate sunflower seeds like there was no tomorrow. Two kinds of woodpeckers–hairy and downy–went after the solid suet/seed mix in the hanging net bag. Pigeons and European sparrows galore, but what wasn’t surprising. Goldfinch on the thistle feeder in front, then goldfinch babies, all tan, on the sunflowers feeders in the back.
One heart-stopping few days of concern for a fledgling blue jay–all puffy feathers, and big eyes, staring at us from the deck railing, then attempting flight, and finally making it half across the yard to the entwined small spruce, its parents rattling and calling it ahead. Our neighbors with the two elderly cats agreed to keep them in–I trust no wandering feline, even deaf and arthritic. Last summer there was a dead baby blue jay waiting for me when I came home from the North Shore. I felt as if I’d failed the bird kingdom.
It’s amazing how we humans can come to feel we’re in charge. Nature’s salvation is up to us. Now, after years of preferring cat lives over bird lives, I’ve switched my allegiance. I’m all for the winged tribes–butterflies, bees, moths, lady bugs and yes, birds. We used to house two famous outdoor cats years ago, Archie and Justa, but no more. Our cats now stay indoors , with an occasional foray to the deck, held tightly in my arms. Too much evidence that cats kill the birds I am attempting to feed, plus too much expense from menaces like bee-bee guns, vicious dogs, and the cats’ own preference for attempting to leap ten times their height in a single bound.
Suddenly two weeks ago, I spied two green mighty mites in the crab apple tree–hummers. For two weeks, they buzzed in and out of the tree, picked invisible insects from the air, dive-bombed chickadees two or three times their size, and sucked at the sugar water in the hummer feeder which I refilled three or four times. Every spare minute I stood at various windows looking out on the yard and watched for them. They were my talismans of summer delight. My connection to hope, joy, and the belief that nature was boundless in its abundance and mystery. Then two days ago, after a very chilly night, I searched the tree and air for them, but they were gone.
Just as the internet information I consulted said they would be. They knew when to leave and they left without a goodbye, without a thank you. For several weepy hours, I was sure I had failed. Maybe my last filling of the feeder had gone awry? I took the feeder down and very carefully calibrated: one cup water, boiled three minutes then cooled, and 1/4 cup of sugar. Even with the new elixir to temp them, they did not return. They are so small, after all, and their metabolism must be enormously fast. They probably can’t survive in cold below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. I would not want them to die, still I am sad, very sad. They pierced the membrane of my complacency with an acknowledgment that my place was good for a stopover. They charmed me with their antics, speed, agility, and yes their metaphoric resemblance–green back, oval shape, to green crab apple leaf, oral shaped. They belonged here with me watching for a while. It’s probably all we can ask of ourselves and the truly natural creatures we let return us to humility.