Minature Magnificence

Cynthia Todd

© Copyright 2023 by

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Above all birds, the hummingbird gives me that feeling of the mystery and the wonder of life. Such a vibrant little body, such color, and wings that beat faster than thought. I felt as if I could watch the whole of life if I could hold a hummingbird in my hand once.
― Gladys Taber, The Book of Stillmeadow

Iíve done that. Iíve held a hummingbird in my hand. What a splendid creature he was, his luminous, emerald-green feathers accentuated by a necklace of magenta. It was an awesome and wondrous experience, but it didnít feel like one at first. Oh, the stress and struggles that were upfront payments.

This hummingbird encounter takes place at a house my son and daughter-in-law recently purchased. Its layout is key to the narrative. The new home is an expansive, two-story Mediterranean, with a spacious foyer separating two wings. A massive glass-and-wrought-iron door greets visitors at the foyerís front, while across the room from it, double glass doors open to a patio. To one side of the foyer, a winding wooden staircase rises to the second floor, where master and guest suites are separated by a five-feet wide, ten-feet long bridge. This walkway is off-centered and closer to the back of the house than the front. From its rails one looks down onto the foyer below. The ceiling in this area rises fifteen feet above the second floor, with six-feet-high gridded windows looking out to the front and back of the property. In the rear of the house, a roofed patio runs its length, with several sets of limestone steps leading down to a lower, mixed-use area. At one end of it is a lawn shaded by towering Ficus trees. At the other is an L-shaped swimming pool. Between them, a bar with a thatched roof shares the space with a fire pit.

Itís a warm day in April and the family is away for Easter break, while I watch the house in their absence. Renovations are underway and painters are busily working in a hallway off the foyer. The patio doors are open for ventilation. Iím standing in the foyer when I hear a buzzing sound similar to what a bumble bee makes. Except itís not a bumble bee; itís a hummingbird! Itís flown through the open patio doors and up past the second floor to the foyerís high back window. The tiny bird is moving up and down the gridded panes, unintentionally using its body as a battering ram, as it tries again and again to pass through an invisible shield. ďCome down here!Ē I yell up to him, as if he knows English. Heís apparently lost track of how he got inside, so itís up to me to help him get back out. Adrenaline courses through my veins, but this is no time to panic. The hummingbirdís life could depend on me keeping my cool.

The upstairs walkway is close enough to the back wall that I might be able catch the bird if I can find some kind of net and a ladder. The pool skimmer net comes to mind. Its handle is telescopic and might reach high enough. Outside, I find the skimmer net, and in the garage, I find a step ladder. I return to the foyer, hoping the hummingbird has freed himself in my absence, but he hasnít. The tiny one is still beating himself against the window. Heís clearly stressed and I fear heíll collapse before I can save him.

I extend the net pole to its full length and set the ladder next to the railing. Standing on its top rung, I can just reach the high window. Itís crucial to catch the bird quickly, but at the same time, Iíve got to work carefully so I donít hurt him. Over and over I strain to sneak up on this avian escape artist, moving the net in front of and behind him, but at the last second, he always evades me. I try using the net to coax him downward, but that doesnít work either. My arms are exhausted from the exertion and I cry up to him, ďPlease donít fight me! Iím trying to help you!Ē

I can barely hold the net up anymore. My arms ache and burn. My neck hurts. My shoulders hurt. I need a taller ladder. I rush back to the garage to find one, but I donít, and when I return to the foyer, the hummingbird is gone. After all my hard work, did he just fly away when I wasnít looking? I scan the room but donít see him anywhere and I can only hope the poor thing found his own way out. Drained, I go to the kitchen for a glass of water, but as I drink it down, one of the painters, who does not speak English, comes in and motions for me to follow him. We walk down the hallway toward the foyer and he stops just before we get to it. He points to the floor. I look to where his finger leads and see the hummingbird lying on his side and breathing heavily. Fighting back a surge of panic, I kneel down and gently, carefully, pick him up and lay him in the palm of my hand. He doesnít move. Eyes open and chest pulsing, he lies there without resistance. The tiny bird is clearly exhausted and must be dehydrated, as well. He needs sugar water, pronto.

The quickest way to get it is from the patio feeder, but with the hummingbird in one hand, I have only the other to work with. Using that hand, I remove the feeder from its hook, take it inside, and wedge it in upside down in the kitchen sinkís drain. That holds it in place and I manage to twist the bottom off and pour some of the nectar into a cup. I grab a straw from the cupboard and go out to the lawn, where I delicately lay the hummingbird in some grass under a Ficus tree. ďYouíll be fine,Ē I assure him.

Having volunteered in an avian ICU at a local wildlife shelter, I know how critical it is to control the amount of fluid you give a bird at one time; they can easily drown if given too much. I suck on the straw and draw a teaspoon or so of liquid from the cup. Using my finger on the top of the straw to create suction, I release sugary fuel onto the hummingbirdís beak a drop at a time. Some of it gets into his mouth and I see his tongue moving as he swallows. I continue this process, drop, drop, drop, for what feels like an eternity. My patient seems to be coming around, but heís still far too weak to fly away. He needs rest and more fluid. My cup is empty, though, so I race inside to get whatís left in the feeder. When I come back out, the hummingbird is lying where I left him, but heís alert and Iím hoping for a full recovery.

I feed him all the fluid in the cup, but he still seems to need more, so I hurry back inside and mix some using warm tap water that barely dissolves the sugar. When I return this time, though, my little charge is gone. I look down at the space where heíd been, now empty, and I can only hope heís recuperated more than I thought. Disappointed at missing his departure, I turn and head back to the house. But as I pass the patio bar, I see him lying like a fallen leaf on the limestone tiles. ďPlease donít die,Ē I implore, as I lift him up.

Sitting on a chair with him in my hand, I drip more of the nectar onto his beak. After a few minutes, he perks up, as if rousing himself from a brief rest. The hummingbird leaves my hand and flies off into a Ficus tree. My emotions are mixed. Iím happy and relieved that he seems to be okay, but Iím still worried about whether heís wholly recovered. What if heís fallen again but somewhere out of sight this time? I walk the grounds, meticulously searching for the little guy, but I donít see him anywhere.

I return to the house and slump into a kitchen chair, worn out but content. I replay the hummingbird episode in my mind, memorizing the moments so I can share them with my kids. But soon I feel an urge to go back outside, to check just one more time and be sure my patient hasnít relapsed. At first I donít see him anywhere and Iím about to go inside again, but then I spot his brilliant body on a step leading down to the pool. He isnít lying on his side, though. Heís sitting up and looking straight at me. We stare at each other for maybe five seconds and then he flies up into a tree, where heís out of sight. Itís as if he came back to say thanks and to show me heís okay. As I slowly turn to leave, Iím grateful for that. Iím elated but also sad, and it feels like Iíve just said a closing goodbye to a dear friend. What a marvelous experience that was, though. As Gladys Taber wrote, ďIt was like I watched the whole of life with that hummingbird in my hand.Ē

Cynthia Todd has penned academic articles, thought pieces, and short stories, along with two books: a historical fiction novel and a narrative nonfiction/memoir. The novel,
Through the Window, was self-published in 2012 but never came near garnering $500.00 in royalties. Cynthia received no payments for her other works. Educationally, she earned both bachelorís and masterís degrees in psychology, later completing doctoral coursework in school counseling. Professionally, she worked with disadvantaged youth, juvenile offenders, and both middle and high school students. The author is currently semi-retired and living in Phoenix, Arizona, where she assists at her sonís real estate agency.

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