The story of one ordinary woman and her extraordinary connection with two tiny birds
The past couple of weeks have been difficult ones, leaving us all to ponder the best and worst of nature, of humanity, and of ourselves. Days of out-of-control fires have raged here in the Pacific Northwest, leaving devastating destruction. Our skies were darkened with smoke, which also brought us a brilliant, pumpkin-orange moon that was one of the most stunning full moons I have ever seen. While contemplating this spectacular sight, I realized it’s a strange feeling to be filled with both awe and grief – a melancholy heart-sadness that is difficult to describe.
Life has seemed to be full of both awe and grief lately. Hurricanes that have ravaged and continue to wreak destruction over parts of our nation have left me bereft for strangers and worried for friends and family. Friends and loved ones are going through extremely challenging life times, and I grieve for them as they wearily withstand huge life storms. And the emotional joy - and terror - of launching my own photography business during times of such suffering and uncertainty in the world have left me at times feeling selfish and shallow, wishing that I had something deeper and more important to offer the rest of humankind.
But in evaluating my life purpose, I also realize that perhaps a few lovely pictures may be just what some of us do need right now. We need to be reminded that in the midst of uncertainty and turmoil, there can still be moments of beauty, soulfulness and connection. We need to be reminded that there is immense value in life’s smallest and most ordinary moments - that ordinary moments and simple joys are the daily foundation of our lives. Big, celebratory events are wonderful and important, but it’s the small intimate moments that, in the thick of things, we find to be the most meaningful.
There is a very special, honest sacredness in the ordinary. These moments are what form the strong, golden thread that holds the rest of our lives in place when things around us seem to fall apart. In my life, many of these simple joys and soulful connections come from nature. The connections that happen as I take portraits of the natural world around me are the most precious thing I have to share with the world. Together, these sacred ordinary moments and images weave a simple, beautiful life that leaves me in awe every day.
As I sit here on this September 11th, the anniversary of one of the most tragic events our nation has ever known, and while fires continue to ravage, hurricanes continue to rage, and humanity continues to suffer, it’s difficult to know what to say that will be meaningful and comforting. It's difficult to know what to do in the midst of so much tragedy and suffering, so much weariness, and so much loss of heart and hope. So, I leave you with what I do know how to do - today, I offer you a simple story of hope and connection. I offer you a story of an ordinary woman and her extraordinary connection with two tiny birds.
I’ve always adored hummingbirds. But my true soul connection with them began back in 2010 as I was recovering from an illness. During my weeks of rest, I spent many hours sitting outside with my camera, observing the garden birds. One favorite chair position allowed me to get up close and personal to a young male Anna Hummingbird’s favorite resting spot. I had been watching him since he was a fledgling. He was a perfect little creature, feisty and full of life. He often sat in the butterfly bush or on nearby crocosmia, resting in the afternoon shade. One particular afternoon, he allowed me to get quite close - within a few feet away. As I snapped his portraits, I softly spoke to him. He watched me with an intense curiosity, listening to my voice as I told him how beautiful and wonderful he was and how much I appreciated him letting me into his space. He sat peacefully on his perch, his eyes never wavering except to close them and take a quick nap. It was a lovely encounter, and a joy my soul sorely needed.
I felt a very strong, soulful connection to my tiny friend that day – a type of connection that is to this day difficult to describe. That evening while editing those photos, I was again overwhelmed with the beauty and soulfulness of this small creature. My own heart and soul were Full. Having had the opportunity to sit with him at such a close range and to completely gain his trust had been a remarkable experience.
As I looked through the day's photos, I saw a strange shape in his eye reflections. I zoomed in several times, enlarging the photo as much as I could to try and decipher the strange highlight. Suddenly my eyes welled with tears. In that tiny little eye, I identified the odd-shaped reflection. It was me. A bit abstract but definitely me - I could see my long-sleeved white shirt with one arm in the shade and the other in the sun, camera lens in the center. I was overwhelmed. I wept then, and even as I write this now seven years later, my eyes again fill with tears. To see yourself reflected in an eye of a living creature – an eye that is roughly the size of the head of a pin – is a humbling and overwhelming experience. It was soul-changing.
I believe when we see nature for what it truly is, we can’t help but be both overwhelmed and humbled. The sheer complexity of all living things is mind-boggling, especially when you begin to realize how intimately we are all connected. I couldn’t imagine having a more intimate encounter with this tiny creature, other than someday holding him in my hand.
This past Thursday morning, the dogs and I were out for a quick garden walkabout. They were being especially inquisitive of every little thing, as the squirrels were in full snatch-n-stash mode at the sunflower feeder. To avoid an unnecessary encounter, we took an alternate garden route - one rarely taken. The dogs were in a very hyper state, attempting to peer through plants to catch glimpses of the squirrels. Suddenly, they both stopped in their tracks, stone quiet, noses riveted to the ground. I quickly wound their leashes taut and walked closer to investigate. And there he was. A perfect, adult male Anna’s hummingbird, laying on his belly with wings outstretched.
He was exquisite. Injured, but still breathing. I quickly ushered the dogs inside and grabbed a small towel and the pitcher of nectar that was fortuitously waiting in the kitchen. For the next thirty minutes, I cradled him in my hand as my mother and I fed him nectar droplets from our fingers.
It was encouraging to see him gaining a bit of strength, and he was soon strong enough to flutter to a nearby tree. I kept careful watch and moved the feeder closer to him so he could conserve some of his energy. It soon became apparent that he was either permanently injured or in the process of passing from age and was beyond an easy recovery. He became tangled in tree moss without energy to free himself, and I climbed up to retrieve him. After I fed him again, he sat for a few minutes and again fluttered away to another nearby tree limb, partially propping himself up against a tiny twig. half an hour later, he fell through bushes and onto the ground, landing upside down. He righted himself, but he hadn’t eaten in over thirty minutes and was too weak and unstable to fly.
I had hoped that he would continue to regain strength, but knew in my heart that he was dying. I told him that it was alright, and that he was safe with me - whatever he needed to do, he could do in comfort, safety and love. I brought him inside the house to rest. For the next few hours, I watched him carefully, giving him nectar as often as he would drink. He sat in my hand for a long time, and as we gazed at each other I whispered to him over and over, “You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. Thank you for finding me when you needed help.” He seemed to understand, and went to sleep in my hand.
He was miraculous. His small, delicate feet gently gripped my skin, and his tiny heartbeat resonated through my palm and throughout my entire body. His feathers were miniature wonders of iridescent pink and green. His glorious gorget feathers looked like tiny, pleated sequins, changing from almost black to neon fuchsia pink with his slightest movement. His eyes were so small – yet so expressive. And his calmness impressed me. He carried an almost otherworldly calmness and peace. I felt like crying, but his beauty and peacefulness were so overwhelming, the tears would not come. This was a time of passage and a time of acknowledging a life well and fully lived, not a time of sadness.
As I was holding him, I couldn’t help but think back to my encounter with the younger Anna’s hummingbird seven years before. Seeing my reflection in his eye was an emotional, life-changing moment. This encounter was deeper though, as I felt this tiny bird’s heart and soul reflected upon my own.
He began to have greater trouble breathing, and it helped him to keep his bill a bit upward and support his chest. He needed more support, and it was difficult for him to keep his balance. My great-grandmother’s satin wedding shoes and veil happened to be nearby, and became the perfect spot for him to rest. He was supported on the tissue paper stuffing and cradled by the sides of the narrow shoe, and was able to rest his chest on the fabric bow. The soft, crumpled veil kept him safe in case he should he lose his balance and topple off the shoe. Having both hands free allowed me to feed him with the eyedropper and use my other hand to keep any nectar drops from sticking to his feathers. He sat that way for what seemed like an eternity on my lap, nestled in Nana’s 120-year old shoe atop her delicate veil. And all the while, I continued to tell him how beautiful he was and how honored I was that he had come to me during his last hours.
Everything about him was exquisite. Beautiful. Peaceful. It may sound strange, but it was a supreme privilege to spend the last few hours of his life with him. To keep him safe, to let him know he was loved, and to allow him to pass in peace was my great honor. It was evening now, and he had gradually stopped accepting nectar. I knew that his little body was slowing down, and told him to rest well. I promised that we would go to the wildlife sanctuary the next day if he felt up to it, but also let him know that the decision was his. And in my heart, I knew he was where he wanted to be. He passed peacefully in his own time that evening during torpor, safely cradled among leaves I had brought in from our garden bushes.
His small life made an overwhelming impact on my heart. His soul and mine are forever entwined. My soul is full, thinking about the joy he brought to us the past two years in our lovely little garden. And I am honored that he allowed me to tend to him during his final hours.
I believe that he found me at a time when he could, for a few moments, live at my slow human pace – he found me during that short window of time when he could no longer live in his wild, untamed world. Our encounter gave me a glimpse into his huge little life that I could not have had intimate access to in any other way. In the midst of so much tragedy world and country-wide - among the hugeness of it all - this tiny little bird found me. And his parting gift to me was the the soulful experience of a lifetime.
It is possible to feel joy and grief at the same time. Without joy, we would not know the depths of grief. And without grief, we would not appreciate the heights of joy. The same is true with tragedy and miracles. They often go hand-in-hand. We must continue to look for and expect miracles in the midst of this complicated and tragic world. For miracles do happen. And someday, you too may hold one in the palm of your hand.