The little jeweled acrobat zoomed up to the window, hovered for a moment as if peering at me, then shot straight upward and disappeared from my sight.
Seated at the long, rectangular dining table in my friends’ house, a steaming cup of fragrant tea beside me, I smiled. I have adored hummingbirds for as long as I can remember appreciating any wild thing, and they continue to infuse my spirit with a sense of effervescent joy whenever they zoom near.
These amazing, delicate birds were the favorite of my mother, and I recall the day as a young man when they became inextricably linked with her in my mind. It was early February, just a few days before Valentine’s Day, and my mom lay in a hospice bed in her downstairs room of our South Pasadena home, preparing to transit from this world. Her home health aide and a few, immediate family members were gathered around the bedside, and I sat next to her, holding her pale, frail hand, watching her shallow breath, knowing the moment had come for her to depart. I recall looking up and seeing a hummingbird hovering right outside the French doors, beneath the arbor of fuchsia-colored bougainvillea, as if it was looking in at her. A minute later, my mother’s spirit slipped quietly away with a final, soft whisper.
As I stood outside on the back lawn and wept hot, salty tears, a hummingbird zoomed up to me and hovered right near my head for several moments. Then it flew away. This had never happened to me before, and in my deep longing or intuitive knowing, I felt it was somehow a sign from my mother—that she was finally free and yet still with me.
After the funeral, one of the things I chose from her belongings was a delicate wooden carving of a hummingbird feeding its two young in a nest. The adult is a separate piece; the long, narrow vertical bill, when inserted into one of the open-beaked juveniles, carefully balances the parent overhead with wings spread. Perhaps five-inches high, this little handcrafted wonder was brought from Japan many years earlier by my grandparents as a gift to my mother, and I long fancied it, even before it came to be mine. In my years of roaming and moving house, I have boxed up the miniature sculpture protectively and carried it along as a treasure; usually it rests upon my altar of precious things, its base placed within a small, immaculately woven bird nest I found at our house on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Through the years of my early and mid-adulthood, whenever a hummingbird appeared, I thought of my mother and felt an immediate sense of warm joy and delight. Both times that I resided in New Mexico, from late spring until the autumn, they seemed to be everywhere about, some fifteen species (or more) having returned from their wintering in Mexico and further south. Zoom, zoom, zoom, they filled my soul with delight whether I was indoors or out, for I could always hear them through the open windows, darting around on the sage-scented breeze.
Living in Europe where they do not exist, I often missed their brilliantly iridescent, loudly humming presence. These miraculous tiny birds, who can hover in place (or even fly backwards) with wings that beat between 50 and 200 times per second, somehow seem to carry the energy of joy. Like honeybees, they inspire me. For many years, above my small writing desk, pinned to the corkboard amid other chosen mementos, pictures, and inspirational quotes, I kept a handcrafted card of an emerald-breasted male ‘hummer’ with the words at the bottom of the photo, What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
Disappointingly for me, hummingbirds do not live in Hawaii, and their introduction to the islands is forbidden by law. Did you know that the natural pollinator of the pineapple is this amazing little bird? Or that when pineapples are pollinated, the fruit produces seeds, an undesirable trait—particularly for the pineapple industry.
On my visits to Carmel, staying at my friends’ home in rural Carmel Valley, I have delighted in the hummers’ presence in the garden and everywhere around, surprised to find a few of them here even in the winter (though most migrate south to warmer climes). Yesterday in the late afternoon, as the light faded toward its golden hour, five Anna’s hummingbirds (the most common variety) were zooming around the rear deck of the house, noisily chasing each other. I stopped my prepwork in the kitchen and stood by the glass doors to watch their antics, my elated inner child very close to the surface and a smile on my face. Wondrous.
This morning, as the lone hummer hovers briefly outside the dining room windows, beside me on the table sits one of the books I am currently reading, a collection of poems by Carolyn Brigit Flynn titled Communion: In Praise of the Sacred Earth (White Cloud Press, 2014). The cover bears a beautiful photograph of a female hummingbird with her shawl of iridescent green feathers feeding from some small, pink flowers.
A hummingbird at the window, and one on the table.
Flynn’s lovely offering of devotional poetry is remarkable, ranging from deeply reverent and celebratory to heart-rending; I am nearly as smitten with it as I am with those little jeweled acrobats themselves. As I wrote to the author, “Receiving this beautiful book is like someone placed a treasure in my outstretched hands.” I have been reading her poems aloud, one each morning, as I step outdoors to greet the day in my barefoot manner, each one an offering to the Holy. More than a couple I have earmarked for my newly established soul practice of learning poems by heart. As Bill, a poet I know says, “There can never be enough spoken poetry. Each poem spoken aloud restores soul to the world.” Amen, brother.
Carolyn, with whom I am having a private, one-on-one lunch tomorrow in Santa Cruz, describes how the poems came to be. From her book’s Preface:
For over a year, I woke at dawn and came to my writing table set before a wide sliding-glass window. I greeted the sky, three redwood trees across the way, the tall birch in our garden, and mourning doves, crows, squirrels, ring-necked pigeons and robins there on any given day. Then I opened The Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke. Each morning I read one poem, and found myself in a call and response, writing a new poem with one of Rilke’s lines as the title…”
… I found myself spontaneously addressing the sacred presence of the earth directly, as ‘Beloved.’ In that moment the divine essence, often called God as well as many other names in the world’s spiritual traditions, became for me an intimate beloved, the embodied earth herself, living daily with us, within and among the trees, creatures, stones, flowers, and within ourselves.”
So much soul-stirring beauty abounds in this slim volume of a book, it seems quite appropriate to have a hummingbird on its cover.
I arrived back on the central California coast on Friday, staying with dear friends at their welcoming house in Carmel Valley—a place that has become a home away from home, and one of my favorite oases. As for my artist studio here, a truly alluring possibility hovers near. In the meantime, I am resting and taking things easy. Walking the parched, brown land in the valley (or occasionally the sea shore), my unsheathed sole on the bare soil or pale sand, senses and heart open wide. I am shifting, listening, harmonizing, and coming back into resonance with this landscape and place—a soulscape—where I am at home in my own skin, once again fully myself, both domestic and wild.
Dwell in possibility, I remind myself, fingering the bodhi seed mala that I wear on my left wrist.
I am watching the diverse array of birds and the mule deer in the shade of the oaks. Washing dishes and pouring the conserved water onto the thirsty garden plants. Yesterday I sat near the bee hives, observing those little winged alchemists come and go like darting golden missiles of love. Cooking fresh, flavorful meals for my hosts and then savoring them with good wine and deep conversation, a sharing that ranges from soul poetry to shamanism to shadow work. Being here, I am engaged in my own communion of sorts.
To that end, Carolyn’s gem of a book in hand, here is the poem that yesterday I took into my bones and breath, adding it to the others that I carry inside my heart:
“Only With Our Doing Can We Grasp You”
I will take you in my hands
today, Beloved, and love you
as you grow in the ground.
I will touch your soft fur,
and your warm lover’s skin
in the morning sheets.
In the afternoon,
I will sit within you
as light floods the garden.
And the bees, loving the flowers,
will be praised by my eyes.
If I could stitch the world together
with my loving, as do the bees,
I would, my Beloved, I would.
I would live like this:
as though my every touch
kept the world alive,
knitted together in this graceful hum.
～Carolyn Brigit Flynn
The coastal clouds obscuring the brown, oak-studded hills have lifted and the day outside shines bright, sunny, and warm. A hummingbird—the same one from earlier?—shoots like a vivid meteor past the windows with an audible thrum. The bees are dancing among the plants and flowers of the deck, loving them. I am called to go outside and sit, to breathe, to savor the moment and the beauty that surrounds.
Soul Artists know that life is at its largest, most powerful, and most content when we are actively engaged in a meaningful conversation with the many realms. In our work, our play, in our living and loving and losing, these are the passages and transitions of transformation. Soul, our creative essence, longs for an authentic exchange with the “more-than-human” world. When we cast our senses and heart wide to what surrounds, when we respond to the summons of the places and passions that call to us, we initiate that deep, sometimes wordless communication. We enter into intimate relationship with the Larger Story, and we must offer something of value in return.
Gentle reader, here’s hoping that you engage in your own sense of communion today. Every day. Whether inspired by the small bird at your window, the rustle of wind in the green silver trees, the clouds of light arcing across the sky, or some other moment of beauty that reaches out and touches you, may your soul open a bit wider in gratitude. Even in our struggles, beauty and grace surround us. As I so frequently ask, to what will you give the gift of your attention?
What waits to be noticed by you—held in the gaze of an undefended heart—and recognized in a moment of silent or spoken communion?