The snickersnee

On the first day of the August Open Write at Ethical ELA, Gayle Sands invited participants to scroll this site, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/surprising-uncommon-words, for choosing an uncommon word to pay with in crafting a poem.

The word that caught me was snickersnee.

I’ll just let the poem speak for itself…

The Snickersnee

Woe to the olden blades
rusty, dull, disobliging—fie!
Off with thee, useless utensils
—begone!
Behold the Snickersnee:

So fine a blade
German-made
slicing mine vegetables
as if they were but a dream
or merely air…
I forgetteth this
exceptional sharpness
during the washing-up
whereupon the Snickersnee
indiscriminately
snicketh a chunk 
o’ me.
(Just a thin slice o’ thumb.
A profusion o’ blood,
nevertheless.
Alas.)

Behold the snickersnee

Filling the bucket

Bucket of Sunshine. gfpeck. CC BY-ND 2.0.

Dandelions represent the return of life, the rebirth of growth and green after a harsh winter, and a display of abundant strength and power.  – Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium

At my school this year, every staff member is writing notes of encouragement and gratitude for each other. We are calling this “filling each other’s bucket” – everyone has a colorful designated bag for receiving the written messages.

I couldn’t think of better symbolism than this bucket of dandelions. Or the quote.

All too often, we never realize the collective abundant strength and power we have.

It is in the giving that we begin to experience it.

Charged

The first gathering
before regular workdays
even begin
is a Leadership meeting
called by new admin
to set the vision
for the year ahead
where lingering clouds
so widespread
start dissipating.
The atmosphere is changed
from June, when we left
depleted and drained:
All my colleagues’ faces,
all their voices and words,
shaking off residual traces
of drenching despair
in this positive charge
electrifying the air.

It can be done.
We have begun.

Explosion of positive energy. Łukasz StrachanowskiCC BY-NC 2.0.

Hummingbird observations

It all started last month when I saw one hummingbird in the backyard, out by the pines.

She appeared from nowhere, hovering stock-still in the air across the yard, directly facing my son and me as if to consider what manner of beings we are before she darted away—poof. Perhaps it’s just my overactive imagination, but I felt like some sort of message was in this magical appearing. Something the bird wanted…

I bought a feeder.

In a day or so, I had a bird. Or two.

Then there seemed to be three. All females.

Eventually a male showed up with his gorgeous fiery throat. From a distance he looked like a flying ember. He preferred coming early in the morning or around suppertime. It’s almost like His Tiny Royal Highness was letting his Royal Nectar-Tasters go before him to be sure the stuff wasn’t tainted. I cannot say, however, that he was any match for the females in regard to which was most vicious in the dive-bomber approach of driving all others away from the sugar water.

Hummingbirds are contentious creatures. Terribly territorial.

I’ve learned there’s a scientific reason for this: Their metabolism requires them to feed almost constantly. Hummingbird hearts have been recorded, I read, at 1200 beats per minute.

I bought another feeder.

As of mid-August, there’s a squadron of hummers at my feeders, so much so that the original feeder hanging on the kitchen window has to be refilled daily; I had to buy more sugar. I know that ruby-throats (the only kind of hummingbird that breeds in the eastern U.S.) are supposed to start migrating to central Mexico. The males go first, in early August, which explains their current scarcity, I think. Females wait a while longer. I’ve also read that some hummingbirds stay in residence all year. We shall see… I have learned to recognize some individual females by their different markings: one with black speckles all down her pale breast and belly, one with a pure ivory belly and a brighter, iridescent green back, one with a darker head, one with a lighter head and pale stripe on top, and one with a precious, tiny dot of red at her throat, like a lady bedecked in a ruby pendant. When I opened the blinds one morning last week, there was Little Ruby, hovering in the gray dawn; we were so startled by each other that we both froze for a split second in mutual awe (wonder on my part, likely fear on hers) before she zipped away.

At this point I must mention my grandmother. Hummingbirds and cardinals were her favorite birds, perfect symbolism for a woman named Ruby. I saw my first hummingbird by the spirea bushes in her yard one summer. The loud buzz of the beating wings alarmed me—was this a big bug coming after me?—but Grandma Ruby’s childlike delight quickly allayed my fear. And then there was nothing but enchantment for this tiny, dazzling fairy of a creature, glittering like an emerald, my own birthstone, in the sun.

Perhaps that is why I took my six-year-old granddaughter out with refilled feeders yesterday:

The hummingbirds hide in the crape myrtle and cheep at me whenever I take their feeders down.

They do? Why, Franna?

They just want their nectar. They are saying ‘What are you doing with my food!

I haven’t ever heard them cheeping.

Today you will.

And so, for just a moment, I held the favored window feeder out at arm’s length as my granddaughter stood by, very still. Two hummers appeared instantaneously, cheeping competitively before hovering, suspended in the air, eyeing me, uncertain, their whirring wings as loud as electric propeller fans. Each took a tentative drink before whizzing off to the pines out back.

I hung the feeder and my granddaughter said, Quick, let’s go in before all those wings come back!

I chuckled, remembering my first experience with the intimidating sound when I was about her age. We darted for the door. As we entered the house, she said: I heard them cheeping!

And then, before I could reply: Franna, look!

She pointed to the window, where a hummer was perched on the very top of the feeder.

Well, that is something new, I said. I haven’t seen any of them sitting up there before.

My husband, sitting at the kitchen table preparing a sermon, said: That bird was perched on the feeder hanger the whole time you were fixing the sugar water.

I am sure she was one of the two who dared to take a drink when I was holding the feeder.

For the rest of the day, this little bird perched, fed, flew off in skirmishes with other tiny feathered Amazons, and returned. Whenever I looked at the window, she was there, looking in, occasionally fluffing her feathers. I am not sure if she’s nominated herself Queen of This Feeder or if she’s simply curious—hummingbirds are known to be extremely so—and is watching me as I play with my granddaughters and cook supper.

I suppose the ultimate question is who’s observing whom.

And what we are learning about each other in the process.

Didn’t realize, until I reviewed the day’s photos, that I happened to catch her with her tongue extruded. Every minute with hummingbirds filled with absolute wonder. I have christened her Lilibet, the nickname of Queen Elizabeth (since she seems to be reigning over the feeder) and also in honor of my great-aunt Elizabeth, Grandma Ruby’s sister. I wrote about Aunt Elizabeth’s hummingbirds a couple of weeks ago: Solitary existence.

Next goals: 1) Get a good photo of Little Ruby and 2) Invest in hummingbird feeder rings for my granddaughter and me to wear…can we stand still enough for them to come drink from our hands? Will they actually do it?

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Path to peace

Every day
has its gifts.
Learn to recognize them.
Give thanks for them.
Watch a new road
materialize before you
under a sky
of infinite
possibility.
The antidote
to despair
is not hope
but gratitude.

An incongruity

These are
the collective nouns
for hummingbirds:
a charm
a glittering
a shimmer
a tune
a bouquet
a hover

Call them what you may
they are not at all charmed
by each other

They are
tenacious
pugnacious
audacious

This I have learned
by observing
a half-dozen tiny Amazons
battling over the feeder
sometimes striking each other
so hard
that one smacks, thunk,
against the window

I am also learning
their colorful language:
warning cheeps
and indignant squeaks
over who gets the sugar-water
even questioning chirps
from the safety of the
pink crape myrtle branches
whenever I remove the feeder
for cleaning and a refill
(I am bringing it right back,
I say aloud
to a subsequent
skeptical silence)

Right back to the nectar
they come
with renewed vigor
peeping
chirping
quarreling
never singing
only once in a while
by some temporary truce
feeding side by side

I might call them
an incongruity

Although, in a way,
they are a bouquet
of diva style:
I can now recognize
the one with black spots
from her neckline
all the way down her pale belly
and the bigger one
with a pristine ivory belly
whose back shimmers
brighter green
and my favorite of all
the smallest one
with just a touch of red
glittering at her throat
—a tiny lady wearing
a precious ruby pendant

When I opened the blinds
this morning
there she was,
Little Ruby, hovering,
looking in at me for a split second
of mutual awe
before she darted away

which, hummers being
what they may,
makes for me a
charmed
glittering
shimmering
day

Forest Music.~Brenda-Starr~.CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.



The last one?

Amid the August frenzy
of female hummingbirds
battling at my feeders
one male sneaks in for a moment
and I haven’t seen him since.

There are more and more hummers at my feeders now. All females. I’ve been watching for males, suspecting they’ve already migrated. Late last week, lo and behold: A straggler? A south-bound traveler on a refueling rest stop? He may be the last male I see this season.

Godspeed, little one.

Remembering Olivia

Early 1970s:

My aunt bought a tape recorder
such a modern thing
she had my little sister and I
sing into the thing:

Let me be there in your morning 
Let me be there in your night 
Let me change whatever’s wrong

and make it right (make it right)
Let me take you through that wonderland 
That only two can share 
All I ask you-ou-ou
ou
is let me be there ..

We giggled
and felt so grown-up
singing the soul-felt words
of such
a beautiful
person

we knew
and believed
every word….

If you love me, let me know
if you don’t, then let me go
I can’t take another minute
of a day without you in it
If you love me, let it be
if you don’t, then set me free
Take the chains away
that keep me loving you….

We loved you,
Olivia,
from our very beginning.