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.

Peaceful pulsations

It is said that jellyfish are the most energy-efficient swimmers in the sea. Simple creatures
lacking brains, hearts, and central nervous systems, they have eyes, mouths, and nerves. They see, eat, and feel. Growing up on the east coast, I was terrified of them. One brush of those hairlike tentacles while playing at the seashore welted my legs and burned like fire. What a study of opposites, jellies: fire in the sea, simple yet complex, eliciting fear and, as with this video, a sense of deep tranquility. I once read an article about the immortality of a species of jellyfish—when threatened or harmed, it’s able to return to a previous developmental stage and regenerate itself. Fascinating, mysterious, perhaps even haunting… but a word I wouldn’t have used in connection with jellyfish (stinging nettles, as Grandma called them) is beautiful.

Until now.

Sea Ceremony

peaceful pulsations
sea nettles trailing bride’s veils
deep tranquility


Atlantic sea nettles. Thanks to my friend E. Johnson for this video.
Try watching while listening to Enya’s “On Your Shore“:

Strange how my heart beats
To find myself upon your shore
Strange how I still feel
My loss of comfort gone before

Cool waves wash over
And drift away with dreams of youth
So time is stolen
I cannot hold you long enough

And so this is where I should be now
Days and nights falling by
Days and nights falling by me
I know of a dream I should be holding
Days and nights falling by
Days and nights falling by me

Soft blue horizons
Reach far into my childhood days
As you are rising
To bring me my forgotten ways

Strange how I falter
To find I’m standing in deep water
Strange how my heart beats
To find I’m standing on your shore

Songwriters: Nicky Ryan / Roma Shane Ryan / Enya

Magic bubble

Just an ordinary morning
making coffee
washing my favorite cup

dab of dishwashing liquid
whoosh of small bubbles
escaping the tip
of the plastic bottle

nothing out of the ordinary
in bubbles rising, drifting
iridescent, carefree

except for the one
heading for the
outlet

where it stays
suspended in midair
between two plugs
rolling and turning
never drifting
as if some invisible force
some electromagnetic field
keeps it in place

I watch and watch
wondering

it seems
anything
but ordinary…

Blue-eyed bunny

Each day offers gifts
pure as a child’s smile, rare as
a blue-eyed bunny

Families often bring pets to school at dismissal, usually dogs happily greeting their beloved children. This is the first rabbit, a Lionhead named Benny. His pure white fur is silky-soft; I was awed by his beautiful blue, almost-human eyes. Thanks to the family for letting me take his photo.

The cicada

Yesterday I tried to rescue a cicada that had fallen on the pavement in the bus loop at school.

I didn’t see it fall. I only saw it on its back, wildly fluttering its wings, unable to right itself.

As cicadas are huge insects, many of my colleagues preferred not to get near it.

But I have loved cicadas all my life. Their summer song, that choral buzzing swelling from the treetops, sends my spirit spiraling skyward. I find it among the most comforting of Earth’s songs.

And so I went and picked it up.

The cicada beat its wings in a frenzy, for a second clinging to my dress with its hook-legs.

I placed it, right side up, in the mulch at the roots of a crape myrtle.

It flipped over on its back again.

This is what cicadas do, what most insects do, when they are dying. Their legs can’t support them anymore.

I figured the creature would be gone by the time school dismissal was over. All I could do was provide a dignified passing for it in the mulch under the tree versus being flattened by the wheel of a bus.

But it was still alive, moving its legs a little, when time came for me to leave.

So I put it in a cup and brought it home.

It was still and silent for most of the ride, except for one episode of weak wing-beating against the cup.

I placed it, right side up, under some ivy in a planter on the back deck.

A couple of hours later, it was on its back again, still feebly moving a leg or two.

I don’t know how long it takes cicadas to die. I don’t know if they feel pain, anxiety, or fear. I know they live the greater part of their lives underground (up to 17 years, some of them) and their time above is short (a few weeks). I start listening for their song at the end of May, the month of my birth, and I hear the last strains sometime in September. Cyclical, symbolic creatures, cicadas. Across cultures and legends, they’re most often associated with immortality and resurrection.

Yet this one was dying. I couldn’t help it or save it. I couldn’t tell it how grateful I am for its kind, and it couldn’t care. I couldn’t give it peace.

In the end, it gave me peace to let it play out here at home with honor in the ivy-sheltered planter. As night drew near, dozens of other cicadas called from the trees…a fitting requiem for a fellow northern dusk-singing cicada.

Maybe it could hear. Maybe the song was a comfort, a blessing, a benediction.

It was for me.

My northern dusk-singing cicada

Something sacred

Summer evening
after dinner
the three of us
are riding home
through the countryside

late-day sun
is amber-bright
when giant raindrops
begin to slap
against the windshield

Raining while the sun shines,
says my husband
from the passenger seat
(I’m in the back;
the boy is driving)
—there’s got to be a rainbow
around here somewhere

The boy makes the left turn
—There it is, he says

wide shimmering bands
hanging in the air
like a gossamer curtain
touching the road
right before us

breathless, we ride
right through it
to find another
and another
just ahead

so many rainbows
gleaming down through
the trees
over the fields

heaven’s glory bending
to caress the earth
a prismatic promise
poured out

all along
our way home

At the end of the rainbow. Mara ~earth light~. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

I didn’t get photos, alas, but the rainbows touching the road before us yesterday evening happened to be near the spot where my husband and I saw an eagle sitting majestically by the roadside back in early 2019. In this picture the background is dark whereas our scenery was vivid green in the amber-gold light of late day… but there’s an eagle, and the sojourning child carrying solace and security in the form of a teddy bear in a backpack speaks to me.

Something sacred is in this place.

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