At about five thirty in the morning of the 29th of July 2007, in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds decided it was time for me to awake. They swarmed over the porch where I slept and drove all sleep away in the early light.
It was a beautiful summer morning, cloudy with rain in the offing, cool with the night’s down-canyon breeze still blowing in the early light of dawn. The high pitched chittering and whizzing and trilling of the male Broad-tails merged nicely and musically with the mid-range whirr of the creek which was talking to itself as it flowed over small waterfalls heading for the Gulf of Mexico. The demanding chattering male Rufous Hummingbirds irately and futilely tried to chase the others away. (That little tiny spot of orange in the photo above is a Rufous perching where it has a good view of its feeder. Hovering is energy intensive so male Rufous Hummingbirds find perches where they can rest for a few seconds at a time. Here is a photo of the same Rufous hovering.) At least 50 birds were sharing five feeders on two porches and they were hungry. Their previous evening’s dinner had been interrupted by a thunderstorm and some may have gone to sleep hungry. I doubt it though; Hummingbirds always know when a storm is coming and stoke up on food in advance of the storm’s arrival. Even the Rufous Hummingbirds quit trying to defend their feeders when a storm is on the way. Everyone eats. Moreover, Broad-tails slip into torpor during nights when they need to conserve energy or had an inadequate energy intake during the day.
It was a joyous way to wake up.
What is it about Hummingbirds that speaks so deeply to us? Is it just that they are little and cute? I doubt it. Their brilliant, shifting colors? Their aerobatics? It is more than that too, I suspect. Perhaps it is the sheer exuberance with which they go about their daily lives. Do we wish we could maintain that level of exuberance throughout our own lives? Shakespeare might have been able to describe and explain it, but he lived in England and Hummingbirds live only in the Americas, so Shakespeare knew nothing of them.
Or maybe the question is irrelevant. Hummingbirds bring us joy – all of us, no matter what religion, political persuasion, age, race, sex – and it is enough to dip into that joy and live it, if only for a few moments during each of the days that the Hummingbirds vouchsafe to us.
But it could be even deeper. It could be so deep that it is not only nameless; it is unnameable.