We called it watching "Humming bird TV". We drove home from work where our neighbor Susie came over for a glass of wine and we sat wrapped in blankets against the cool wind and the occasional rain, watching fifteen to twenty humming birds swooping and zig zagging in and out and away from the feeders of her house next door: frenetic match heads of red and metallic green. We had binoculars straps around our necks and could watch the birds as they stuck their long curved bills into the red feeders to drink.
Jan and Suzie drank wine. I drank grape juice. Just above the Spruce trees an Eagle soared slowly, ridiculously slow compared to the phrenetic buzzing and pulsing of her avian sisters at the plastic feeders . Jan was looking through her binoculars at the hummers and was flipping through the Sibley's Guide trying to tweeze out the difference between the markings of the Rufus and the Anna's . I sipped my grape juice and looked up at the drifting eagle and slipped into a memory/dream.
Years ago Robert Hass, the poet from California (who would go on to become the Poet Laureate of the U.S.) gave a lecture on Haiku here in Sitka. He read many of the short poems and the one thing which I remember from his lecture (which may or may not have been in it) is this: When the human mind attacks a problem, it constantly shifts it's view from the small... to the the large, like a variable zoom lens. In the case of the mind, we zoom from the very very vast ramifications of a problem or a conflict, to the intensely minuscule details of the workings of its constituent parts. The best of these little poems captures both ends of this spectrum.
Although I don't do his talk justice, I remember walking out of Robert Hass's lecture feeling as if something had shifted in my chest, as if a frozen line in my thinking was becoming unthawed and was chunking its way clear.
I know I'm not the first to imagine the workings of the solar system in the spider's web caught in morning light, or the heaving of class issues in the machinations of an ant hill. But what we make out of some images that stick in our minds do not reveal themselves so easily. The great and small often adhere to memory unconsciously, for reasons that at the time appear mysterious and then reveal themselves later when the lessons of life are ready to be learned. This is why we remember things that don't seem to matter, they are future lessons that we are not ready to learn. At least that's what I believe.
My mind is a "junk drawer" full of such memories: images that are the fusion of the big and the small: a Dall's Porpoise adult and calf breaking the wake of a boat I was steering in the moonlight off Cape Flattery, a hawk holding half a rabbit in a tree in front of me as my saddle horse rounded a bend, the rabbit's guts bright white and blue, it's blood red as wine. Then the hawk was gone in a flurry of feathers and spatter. I remember these things because my mind wants me to come to some conclusion about them. But what conclusion? I have no idea. What does the image of the hummingbirds and the eagle tell me about anything? Why does it stick to my memory other than the strangeness of the two birds?
I'm not sure...I only know that there was something frightening about the slowness of the eagle's flight... something unsettling, and something... exhilarating about the hummingbirds. Also, I know that the Eagle was scanning for carrion and the hummingbirds were drinking sugar water, but that is about as far as I wish to deconstruct the image right now. The moments lesson, or conclusion will be revealed in it's own good time. Or at least I can always hope.
Perhaps someday, I will return to it. Maybe when I am lying in a hospital bed and I will remember watching "hummingbird TV" and I will write a fine, short little poem, which will unlock the little lesson that my mind tried to capture on that cold spring evening, wrapped in a blanket drinking my grape juice.
Until then I will have to be satisfied with this:
After the rain
a little bit of sun
and a spider
repairing her web.
jhs--- Sitka, AK