Without writing about you-know-what, it’s pretty quiet in my head.
Ah, I know. …
I caught a hummingbird tonight.
It was stuck in our garage, flying around the ceiling like it was deranged. The heat index here today was 105. In our garage, even with the door up, it was much hotter, and this little bird kept flying in circles, into the electrical wires of the door opener and trying to go up, not down or out. It buzzed around the ceiling so much, forward and backward, that a few feathers stood roughly apart from its otherwise sleek little head, adding to the creature’s look of confused desperation.
Trish suggested that the poor little thing was physically stressed because of the heat, and was disoriented. Somehow, I was given the task of herding it outside.
First, I thought if it had been flying around for any length of time it must be hungry, or thirsty. So I fetched the one feeder we have, climbed a ladder and stood their holding out the food toward the bird like an animated statue of ornithological liberty.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t any more frantic with a big human head just inches away from it. It perched on the door opener’s cord and cracked open its long slender beak and sat panting. It wasn’t ruby-throated, or cloaked in an elegant green. It was grey and dull and exhausted. I could see the drumming of its heart inside its breast, like a full field of horses coming down the stretch.
After a few minutes it floated down to the feeder and sat on the little plastic yellow bud and dipped its beak into the sugar water for long draws.
Ella had been working the floor, directing me here and there and offering suggestions. When the bird lighted on the feeder she went to get a leash — makes perfect sense. She got to see how close the bird came to me, how it accepted our offering for a few moments, then it took to flying again.
Ella was making me nervous, and I was worried that she was scaring the bird, so I made her leave. Actually, I told her she could stay in the garage if she stayed still and was quiet. She didn’t hesitate. “I’ll go outside,” she said.
I got off the ladder and tried to get it to fly down below the door so it could see the sky, but it wasn’t having any of it. It might have been dazed and scared, but it knew the ceiling and the wires, and it didn’t want to try anything new.
I thought if I left it alone and the bird didn’t make it out I would walk back into my garage and find its body fallen to the floor. I’m much to chicken to face that, so I sat out to catch it.
First I tried Ella’s minnow net, which Trish has duct-taped to the end of a paint roller handle. It was easy to get the bird into the net, but I was afraid of hurting it — it’s a small net with a hard plastic rim — so it also easily flew out.
I put the net down and held out my hands.
It was as if the creature had been waiting for this. It sat on a wire, I reached out and gently wrapped my hand around it. It gave out a little squeak, but when I cupped it in both hands it settled down. I walked outside, kept it still for a moment. I looked around for Ella, but she and Trish had gone inside to escape the heat themselves. I opened my hands. It paused — it must have been too tired for a quick getaway — then lifted up and flew straight away into a big oak tree across the street.
What is it about such small creatures that stirs compassion and concern? I’ve seen these hummingbirds dart after each other, defending their turns at the feeder in aerial, acrobatic fencing matches. It’s not as if they’re helpless, or less able to thrive in nature because of their size. Were it a starling, or a possum, I wouldn’t have taken any caution with a broom to get it out as quickly as possible.
But the small things, elegant, mysterious, induce a gentle hand.