hummingbird

Hummingbirds are prolific eaters, feeding about every 15 minutes throughout the day.

After Hurricane Katrina, my Aunt Eunice returned to find all of her food spoiled by the power outage. The only thing she salvaged from her freezer was a small suet cake for the backyard birds.

She hung the suet from a surviving tree, her way of reconnecting with the kinder side of life after the storm.

Eunice has been gone for years, but I thought about her as my wife and I flew back to Louisiana after a vacation to face Hurricane Ida. While reading on the plane, I happened on a journal entry from Henry David Thoreau, who had gone out walking in 1852 and noticed a robin singing in the middle of the rain. He wondered how the same nature that brought something so cheerful could also bring something so dreary.

It’s a question Aunt Eunice would have understood, one as old as time. Nature yields darkness and light, often at the same time. The dark puzzle of it, though hard to bear, is part of what makes nature so beautiful.

None of this seemed of much comfort as we drove home from the airport and got into battle mode for Ida. Among other chores, I took down our birdfeeders and stowed them in the shed so they wouldn’t cause mischief in the wind.

We couldn’t do much about the arbor where my wife had planted a cypress vine to attract hummingbirds. I worried that it might blow over — and that many other things, including some of our big trees, might blow over, too.

We survived Ida OK, though we know that many others weren’t so lucky. The continuing struggles of thousands to recover are a daily reminder of that.

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Among the things that sustain me in this troubled year is that backyard arbor that endured the storm.

It’s covered in cypress vine now, with red blooms so open for pollinators that they remind my wife of satellite dishes. Often, while we eat on the patio, hummingbirds come by to work the blossoms. They beat their wings above our heads, each one like a fluttering heart aloft in the final light of an autumn day.

I sometimes ask myself if it’s decent to enjoy such lavish beauty when there’s so much that’s broken right now. I can feel more than a little guilty about the good fortune I have to experience such miracles.

I also know that the sight of a bird isn’t an uncomplicated joy. They, too, are troubled right now, with many of them in decline because of environmental challenges.

But maybe, I tell myself, not noticing the gifts of the season would be the larger failing. Bearing witness to wonder is the start of healing, which the world really needs right now.

The birdfeeders I stowed before the storm are all up again. I look out the window and inspect them for visitors, eager not to miss a thing.


Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.