Sunday in the Park
It is with no false modesty that I can proclaim I own a couple a stunningly beautiful hummingbird feeders. I can say this because they were gifts over the years from friends who picked them up at different art fairs. They are lovely blown glass with swirly designs and fancy spouts. And for years I have never seen a hummingbird anywhere near them.
Each year I would fill the feeders and watch the red liquid disappear. One year I discovered a hill of ants under the leaking feeder, and so at least I knew where the liquid had gone. But after I fixed the spout, the liquid still disappeared, there were no more ants, and yet I never saw a hummingbird.
"Mother’s Day," my friend, the gardener extraordinaire, always says with a certain smugness. "You can count on seeing the first hummingbirds that weekend."
So I dutifully put up the feeders, watch the liquid grow low, and refill it when I remember. It is an exercise in faith and responsibility and all that circle-of-life stuff I tell myself. After all, the bees have returned in force in this season, to the catmint bushes, so maybe the planet is righting itself in this great upheaval of warming and cooling and exploring uncharted waters.
This week I sat on my tiny porch, out front, for my breakfast ritual this time of the year. A cup of tea, farmer’s market sweet-bread toast, a handful of berries, and perhaps the paper. Mostly, I just take in the morning. So I was distracted by the quiet and sun moving up in the sky and picked up a handful of raspberries and held them in my open hand for just a minute, examining them in their plump perfection. When out of nowhere there was a buzzing and a rapid flutter around my head and I saw a spot of red so fast just a flash, really and then I backed up and focused on a perfect hummingbird, aloft over the empty porch chair next to me, eyeing, I think, the raspberries.
I can only tell you my delight glee, honestly was childlike and spontaneous and I’m glad there were no witnesses.
Not only did I refill the fancy (ornamental, I always assumed) feeders, I went right out and purchased the upside down plain ol’ bottle variety. The kind man at the Summit Feed Company (what a terrific store that is, for birders as well as large animal folks, over in the greater Home Depot commercial world) said the hummers are crazy right now. Feeding all the time. He and his wife couldn’t keep their feeders filled. Had I seen the green-throated ones? "Still looking," I said, which was true. How could I confess in four years of filling the feeders this was first sighting of any hummer?
I came home and refilled all the feeders and the new bottle boy which I placed out front, near the porch where the aforementioned sighting happened. Then I walked around back to check on the snow peas. They have grown like crazy this year, up and over the iron garden fence. The lettuce is full, the radishes plump, the corn high as a sandhill crane’s eye, but still no sign of the ears. I pulled up a beet but it seemed a bit premature, so I was getting ready to put the baby beet in a basket when the sounds of jet engines were revving right in my ear. Above me, at the beautiful glass feeder, was another hummingbird. I have no idea the color of its throat, it was moving so fast and I was so surprised. I was just taken by its iridescence in motion.
That night when twilight came around I was lucky enough to be home on the porch swing out back. If I stay still at that hour of transition I am often rewarded. This was one of those redeemable evenings. There was, on one feeder, a mountain bluebird. Bright blue, he took a time to feed and recharge and maybe show off a bit. He flew away when a gossipy group of magpies tried to crash the party. Soon they left, after a gaggle of geese flew in formation overhead. There were tiny birds, black and white and beautiful, fluttering under the back corner yard feeder. And then, on the tall feeder right in front of me that separates my yard from the neighbor’s, the most gorgeous black and yellow and red and white bird set upon the perch to feed.
I wanted to grab my camera, but I know all too well how often it works out that, by the time I find the camera, the bird has flown away. So I just sat on the swing but not swinging at all. Barely breathing, not wanting to break the spell. And I told myself I needed to take a picture with my mind. Freeze this frame. The sun had set behind the feeder some time before, and the horizon was reduced to a warm rosy glow right next to the mountains. The sky was already turning that indigo blue/black. And the bird, the perfectly, amazingly, colorful bird, was taking the all-you-can-eat approach at the feeder.
In this difficult summer, it is easy to focus on all that is lacking. Out of reach. Lost. Less than abundant. But as my old English professor used to point out, clichés are clichés because they are true and sometimes truths are worth repeating. And sometimes the best things in life, at least at the moment, are free. Unbidden. Seasonal. Worth being still about. Surprising and even abundant, on occasion.
The chill at night in August always comes as a surprise. "Too early," we say, our heads shaking. We know the summer is fading but it is not yet gone. Time enough to celebrate this season in fullness, any day now, especially Sunday in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.
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