The Hummingbird of Devotion

This morning I lay in bed, my blurry eyes contemplating the soft, silver light illuminating the heavy flaxen draperies, and with an inhale I briefly gave my cells a positive word of thanks.

Silently, I blessed myself saying, I welcome good things and possibility today. I embrace mysterious grace, and I am not separate from the song of the world. I will leave the door of my heart ajar to catch sunlight and a soft wind from the sea that whispers through the garden.

Rising, I pulled on some clothes, nudged the thermostat up, and wandered into the kitchen to set the cobalt blue kettle atop a flame on the stove. I opened the leaf-stenciled linen curtains in the living room, switched off the front porch light, and then stepped barefoot in my usual way out to greet the morning. Though the braided cord with its three, antique bronze bells jingled as I softly opened the front door, the Whippets were content in their bed under a blanket, and didn’t come along. I left the door ajar behind me … just as I said I would to my heart before I rose from bed.

The early air was scented sweetly of honey from all the flowering trees in the neighborhood, and the voice of the sea, faint and crackling like static, rumbled like distant thunder. I crossed the cool wooden deck to the old bricks, and then stepped onto the dirt, where laying my hands upon the Grandmother Monterey cypress, I opened my body in a gentle morning stretch. 

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Grandmother cypress in morning light

When so much in life seems fleeting like the delicate spring blossoms, this great venerable being, whose roughly furrowed trunk spirals gracefully, reminds me of the enduring grace of nature. She wordlessly teaches me about patience and strength, the value of deep roots, as well as the generosity of offering shelter, and listening to stories without words. 

I turned back towards the cottage, the eastern sky aglow in a bright ribbon above the house and stitched with tall silhouettes of neighbors’ pine trees beyond. Inhaling, exhaling, breathing down into my soles, I opened my arms wide and sent a prayer towards the sunrise.

There are tasks to be accomplished today, plenty of them. Some of what awaits is work that I don’t want to do, but such is life. Yet maybe, just possibly, I can make a small shift in my attitude—like turning toward the rising sun—and face the day with less resistance, burden, and overwhelm.  

Stay soft and open, River.

Stepping back into the warmth of the house, I paused briefly on the threshold and smiled at seeing the new addition hanging outside the front windows: a hummingbird feeder.

After wanting one for the past year and a half of being here in California, yesterday I finally found just what I was wishing for. Most of the feeders I’ve seen are cheap plastic things that lack in beauty, craftsmanship and allure (unless you’re a hummingbird, I suppose). This one is made of red glass (hummers are drawn to red), fashioned like an old-style bottle. It was not expensive, suited my slim budget, and has a very nice look, I think.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” said William Morris, the textile designer who strongly influenced the British Arts and Crafts Movement. His words are a motto that I have taken deeply to heart, and when I found the red glass feeder, I was utterly delighted. 

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Calling all hummingbirds!

Back at home, I hung it from a chain outside the front windows. The table on the other side of the glass is usually where I sit to write (or edit) for long hours if the day is not warm enough to be outdoors, and where we eat our meals. A hummingbird feeder suspended where it can be seen it all day seems simply perfect.

Curiously, just inside on the white painted windowsill, rests a small, Japanese wooden sculpture of a hummingbird, delicately poised above two young in a nest. It belonged to my mother, and it is one of my most cherished treasures, something that I appreciate and admire every day. (Read “Hummingbirds and Communion,” a 2014 post about poetry, nature and grace.)

How I adore these miraculous little winged creatures of beauty. Some of them migrate but the Anna’s hummingbird remains in California year round, and I often see—hear!—them zooming by as I am walking, especially in the warmer weather. Yet with the shade of the Grandmother cypress, and a lack of alluring flowers at the front of the cottage, the hummers are not often around my house. With the feeder, I am hoping to draw those flying jewels of inspiration and joy, so that I can perch by the window or on the deck and watch them hovering close at hand—ones made of feathers and breath rather than carved wood.

Sometimes the path at our feet feels like a rocky one, an uphill climb, or both. So often our work (mine, included) seems to have little immediate or tangible benefit; we struggle and toil day after day, climbing the hill or mountain, yet the trail just goes on out of sight around the next bend. And while beauty and inspiration are everywhere—even in ravaged places, even if only in the expression of kindness—if we aren’t paying attention or the heart is shuttered, we may not recognize or heed what calls softly to us. I have mused in previous posts on the ways that we welcome and invite grace, and hanging the red glass hummingbird feeder outside my front window feels somehow like a quietly symbolic act for just that: invoking a colored flash of grace and wild beauty.

The past day or two, wrestling with work, ‘platform’ and promotion, grappling alternately with expectation and disappointment, I found myself thinking, what is devotion?

It feels huge to contemplate, for surely ‘devotion’ encompasses the depths of faith, love, work, creativity, and soul. It is something I want to walk and sit more with, considering the contours and complexities of; yet in these initial moments of reflection, the heart of it seems to me to be about giving—even when such an act seems difficult or challenging. We take endlessly, ever grasping and wanting, but what do we give in return or exchange?

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Nested, hand-carved treasure from Japan

As with The Bones and Breath, this weekly journal is part of my offering: a humble way of giving something back to the ‘more-than-human’ world. It is Earth that sustains us all, whether we recognize it consciously or not, and I choose to live with an ongoing song/chant/prayer of gratitude. And hope. Some days I fare better than others, but week in, week out, that is what I do in these pages: sing to you, Nature, the Wild Beloved, and the Larger Story.

Everything we do affects the song of the world. Are we creating harmony or dissonance? 

Just as the Grandmother cypress teaches and reminds me about life, gazing at the little sculpture of the hummingbird feeding its young shows me something about devotion. At least one embodiment of it.

Perhaps one day soon a zooming, live hummingbird will appear and hover at the front window, delighting and inspiring me. In the meantime, I will continue to find small ways each day of welcoming nature, magic and grace—mostly by being rooted in the moment(s) through my senses, and appreciating the beauty and feel of things.

Friend, as I so often encourage you, walk barefoot on the earth. Practice ‘sacred reciprocity’ and offer something of beauty in exchange for the sensual gift of being ensouled in a human body. Water the garden and pull weeds. Cook a nice, fresh meal for your beloved. Unapologetically hug a tree. Thank a farmer. Feed the birds. 

Find, and somehow show, your devotion.

And leave the door of the heart ajar.

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