Adopt-a-crow?

In the wake of
my hummingbirds’
departure
it has been suggested
that I befriend
a crow.
Hmmm.
I don’t know…

American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos. jpmckenna – Plotting 2020 AdventuresCC BY-NC 2.0.

—A crow’s endearing pose? To give them their due, crows are highly intelligent; they use tools. They play. They mourn. And this, from the Corvus entry on Wikipedia:

Crows have demonstrated the ability to distinguish individual humans by recognizing facial features. Evidence also suggests they are one of the few nonhuman animals, along with insects like bees or ants, capable of displacement (communication about things that are not immediately present, spatially or temporally).

Not tiny and fairy-like, but certainly enchanting…furthermore, as I finished this post and went outside, a crow called —caw-caw—from the pines…

Crows on the cross

Crows, historically associated with death, are highly intelligent birds with powerful memory. In folklore they convene to determine capital punishment for wrongdoers—a murder of crows, apropos. Yet they mourn their dead and will even place small sticks or other objects around a deceased fellow crow, in a sort of funeral rite.

On Sunday morning, crows perched atop the steeple cross at church as congregants arrived. Harbingers of death? Casters of judgment? Consider the cross, an instrument of capital punishment, particularly of someone “who knew no sin” offering himself as a sacrifice for all the wrongdoing of humankind…For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17 NKJV); For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

So sit the crows
on the steeple cross
a judgment passed
a death sentence cast

yet overturned and overcome
so long ago
—one wonders what the crows know.

Dinnertime guest

He comes to dine each evening
between four and five o’clock
resplendent in his crimson cravat
in an emerald flash, he’s gone
breathless, I await his return

A female ruby-throated hummingbird giving the feeder over to a male: If you look closely, you can see his tongue lapping up the sugar water. A hummingbird’s tongue is forked, like a snake’s, with edges that trap nectar. During my impromptu summer study I’ve learned that males are the minority. They are fewer and never linger as long as females. So many days have gone by without sighting a male that I wondered if they’d all migrated; they are the first to go. Then this fellow began arriving every evening for dinner. He’s quite punctual. I’ve been reading that hummingbirds may not leave my central North Carolina neck of the woods until winter. We shall see… in the meantime, I watch and marvel over nature, its rhythms, its endless curiosities.

Expectations

As a literacy coach and intervention team facilitator, I am tasked with communicating expectations of my administration and the district to my colleagues. It’s a tricky position (correction: these are tricky positions. Plural. Sometimes I feel like Bartholomew Cubbins, wearing 500 hats). At present, my fellow educators are, in the wake of COVID, undergoing state-mandated Science of Reading training while adjusting to new curriculum and new leadership. It all comes with new expectations.

Truth be told, however, many of these expectations aren’t new: Problem-solving as a professional community, finding what we need as educators to give the students what they need. Bridging gaps. Collaborative planning. Collective responsibility. None of these are new; they just feel new if they’ve not been done effectively before…the bottom line being the determination of this is what the kids really need; how do we make it happen?

It’s formidable challenge, in a time where there are many needs, and when educational philosophies, beliefs, and mindsets clash. I recently wrote about endurance (from a spiritual point of view). This new school year follows one of extreme exhaustion. We will not endure without leaning on one another. We will not build our strength in isolation. We will not succeed without stamina. Or vision. Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Grappling with expectations is, well, expected. Everything, everything, everything rests on one of two beliefs: it can be done or it can’t.

I believe it can.

Yesterday my granddaughter visited. The hummingbird feeder rings I ordered for us had just arrived. Perfect timing. We took them out of the package, washed them, made a tiny batch of sugar water, and filled them. Off to the yard we trotted to stand with our arms resting on the fence near one of my two feeders where a handful of hummingbirds compete for their nectar throughout the day.

You can see for yourself, in the photo, my granddaughter thinking I don’t know about this…yet there’s a layer of hope and fear in her expression: Will the hummingbirds actually come drink from my ring? Will I be scared?

After a while: How long is this going to take?

The secret, my love, is patience and persistence. If it doesn’t work the first time, we will try again, and again. Hummingbirds have come to drink from the rings of other people in other places; they will eventually do so with us. Keep trying. Believe. I will stand with you until it does.

Oh, right.

I started off talking about teaching, didn’t I.

Expression of uncertain expectation. After she left, I went out again when the hummers were more active. A couple of them hovered nearby, considering me and my outstretched, ringed hand (hummingbirds are highly intelligent and curious). If they come to me…they will come to my granddaughter. I will see if can make it happen for her.

*******

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

The way of it

On the first required workday
before school begins
I drive the familiar backroads
once again

dew-drenched pastures
and old weatherboard barns
defy time
they are
their own world

then to my delight
a patch of tangled sunflowers
on the right
must have been growing here
all summer
I didn’t know
I think of Van Gogh
walking the rustic village
of Arles

up ahead, the pond
I scan it quickly
for the great blue heron
and there it is
at water’s edge
nearest the road
big and gray-blue
like a watercolor rendition
so perfect a pose

I feel light
like these are signs
that all will go well
with the work
lying before me

peace becomes strength
in my spirit
in my bones

on the second workday
I see it all again
even the heron

I can always face
the day ahead
whenever I see
the heron

I am so light
I could soar

then on the third day
without warning
orange signs on white gates
say the road is closed

I must detour

no passing the pond
no seeing heron
standing with elegiac grace
in the still water

although I know
it’s there

so on I fly
day after day
going out of my way
to get to where
I need to be

for now at least
I have the sunflowers

Vincent would say
it’s enough

keep painting the day
and the required work
beautiful
around the barriers
until they are gone

that is
the way of it

Coming home; the pond is just ahead but I can’t see it

Today years old poem

On the final day of the August Open Write at Ethical ELA, Scott McCloskey extends this intriguing invitation:

“Have you heard of the saying, ‘I was today years old when I found out about…’?  It’s what we say when we find out something surprising, something new that we’ve just learned…Think of the most recent (most interesting /startling) thing that you’ve learned…You could examine the fact.  Interrogate it.  Expand on it.  Or simply just share it with the rest of us.”

I return to the hummingbird.

Inside the Skull

When I was
ten or eleven years old
supermarket tabloids
ran story after story
of UFOs
and alien abductions.
I half-believed 
these ridiculously weird
narratives…
at today years old
I sit at my kitchen table
looking through the window
at a hummingbird
hovering in midair
like an otherworldly thing
looking right back at me.
I wonder what it’s thinking
this tiny iridescent creature
that mesmerizes me
takes over my brain
controls me for hours
compelling me to read
everything I can
about its kind
which is how I learn
a hummingbird’s tongue
is so long
that it coils
around and around
its tiny skull
and rests behind
its ever-bright
and curious eyes
-ridiculously
unbelievably
weird
I say to myself
as I lose all track
of time…

Resharing my photo of my hummingbird with her tongue extruded

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

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.