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Spring has come to Bodhisattva. Our patio is a walking tour of intoxicating scents. Upon entering our gate, one is flanked on one side by a flowering Meyer Lemon tree and on the other, an out of control Pink Jasmine vine; across the patio, an exuberant, white-blossomed Pittisporum tree – all blooming at once. Outside my office window at the rear of the building, there is a small, potted Ficus tree whose sole function is to add some green to the view. In it, my gardener discovered a nest with two baby Hummingbirds.
Their Ruby-throated mother is a frequent visitor to the Hummingbird feeder outside the office entrance. She swoops in to have a meal, and then lights upon a furled palm frond and seems to watch us from that perch. She feeds every hour or so every day, often buzzing me as I walk from the office across the patio to my house. I have often wondered if she’s the same Hummingbird that got caught in the peach tree net last Summer.
I have an old peach tree that despite its age, blesses us with quite a bit of fruit. We net it every Summer to keep the resident squirrels from plundering the lot. One afternoon, as I was leaving the house, I noticed that a hummingbird had penetrated the net but couldn’t find her way out. So I folded up some flaps in the net, and placed a red hibiscus flower near the gap, hoping to attract the bird to the opening. I left for a couple of hours, and when I returned, I didn’t see the her. Relieved, I assumed that she had found her way out – until on closer look about an hour later, I spotted her limp body laying motionless in the net. She had impaled her tiny head through one of the holes in the netting, the nylon tightly cutting into her neck. I took her in my hand, and she peeped piteously, barely moving. I could see her life ebbing from her quickly.
I had to free her from the net; then I could worry about how to free her head. She had exhausted all her energy trying to escape for those hours so she was dangerously depleted. I ran into the house and got scissors, and cut doing my best not to pull the netting tighter. It was awkward trying to hold the net steady, cutting, while still trying to support her. To my horror, as I cut the last strand of nylon, she slipped from my hand and fell to the ground. I was so disappointed and angry with my clumsiness. I scooped her up, resolving to save her if I could, and imagined myself a bird paramedic on one of those Animal Planet channel shows.
I would need an ultra-thin scissor to cut the netting from around her neck. I pulled my grandmother’s antique, Swan shaped eyebrow scissors from the bathroom cabinet for the job. Next, I plucked the jar of hummingbird nectar from the fridge, and dug through the company silverware drawer to find a dropper. Finally, I grabbed the hummingbird feeder, in case I could entice her to eat without force feeding her. I chose Bodhisattva’s shipping table to operate, rested her on some paper towels, and went to work.
By now, it was early evening. The Sun was dropping into the West behind the back house so the office was getting dark. I turned on the brightest lights I could, and strained to see if I could fit the base of the eyebrow scissors under the nylon strand. There was just enough room to coax the blade over her exposed, delicate skin where her feathers had shed from the abrasion of the net. It was surreal to see the Swan headed scissors cutting the Hummingbird’s head free. But her new found freedom did not seem to register with her; her little chest was heaving, her eyes half open, her heart pounding. It would be a race against time to get some food into her. I spoke to her all the while, using the sound healing tool of a soft, calming voice to reassure her.
I rested her upon the peg of the feeder, which her feet instinctively clutched. Gently, I leaned her beak into the opening of the feeder. She was so weak she just rested there, unable to move. I would have to force feed her.
It’s hard to overstate how tiny a humming bird beak is, and hers’ was shut tight. With her little feet still gripping the peg of the feeder, I steadied her body with one hand and lightly tapped the dropper against her beak. She looked up at me dazed; it seemed as that was the first time we really made eye contact. I tapped again and squeezed a single drop of the fluid so that it balled up at the tip of her beak.
My joy that she had started to suck down the fluid was short lived, because with the first drop, she disappeared, zooming straight up so fast I couldn’t even tell whether she had flown into a recessed lighting panel, or into the loft above the office. Outside, the long shadows had given way to twilight. This was not good.
Cursing, I dusted the pine needles, spiders and accumulated dirt off the ladder outside and hauled it into the office to investigate the lighting panel. She wasn’t there. That would mean she would be in the loft, where there were hundreds of places a bird the size of my index finger could hide. I had to find her before it got dark. She didn’t have enough calories to last the night.
Our loft is a small space- not more than 50 cubic feet maybe, but it’s used for storage so it was packed with stuff. I rifled between tubs of zafus and stacked Himalayan crates stocked with singing bowl cushions. No Hummingbird. The space is lined with double-paned windows, and there is one open window in which a square, exhaust fan sits. I peered through the blades of the fan. Of course – there she was, clinging to the screen of the open window in a ¾” space between the screen and the fan. There was so little room – how was I going to get her out of there? If I removed the fan, she would just fly out the other side of the loft, which opened into my office crammed with even more places for her to hide. So I couldn’t let her escape. I grabbed a roll of blue tape and sealed all the openings between the fan and the screen, except the one which would give me access to her.
The fan was to my left and it was such a tight space, there was nowhere to fit my right shoulder so I was unable reach my right hand into it. I would have to flatten my body against the wall and grasp her with my less dexterous, left hand. The light was quickly fading, and I knew I only had one shot at this. I gave her my game plan:
Ok, little hummingbird. You can’t spend the night in here, you won’t make it. You have to be free. I’m going to reach my hand in here. You need to let me take you. I won’t hurt you, OK?
With a deep, even breath, I reached in and simply closed my hand around her. Extricating her little claws from the screen, I pulled her free. Tumbling down the loft ladder, I bounded for the patio door and opened my hand. She swooped up and perched on tops of the Temple bamboo, swaying in the Western glow of the summer evening. She was going to be fine. I made a note to myself; if you ever have to rescue a Hummingbird again, work outdoors.
So of course, when we discovered our Hummingbird had babies, it made me all the more sure that our resident Hummingbird was the same one from last summer; as if she had felt safe to build her nest here. We were only aware of the babies for a few days. I would watch them out my office window with binoculars so as not to disturb them. Luckily, the tree was wrapped in netting so the cats couldn’t scale it; and it was such a quiet space that it was naturally sheltered from larger, winged predators. The nest was only the size of a Japanese tea cup; just enough room for the diminutive bodies of the two chicks; their heads and tips of their tails sticking out the top of the nest. They stayed so still, only animating when their Mom came to feed them. We figured that remaining motionless must be a defense mechanism, their black eyes staring like itty-bitty, jet beads.
And as is the way of nature, one morning they were gone. I kept staring at the nest with the binoculars; thinking perhaps that somehow, they’d reappear. They did not. I don’t know where they went. I did see what looked like a new, full grown hummingbird at the feeder. I read that that by the time they fledge they are actually bigger than their Mom, so I don’t know that I would recognize them if I did see them. A glum, empty nest syndrome settled on our office.
But the mother seems to be in great spirits. She’s eating up a storm. She sits on her perch, watching us, chirping and whooshing across the patio, her home. We’ll leave the nest in the Ficus for next year, as apparently they reuse them. Life is unfolding in its perfect rhythm and in its time. It’s only the mind that is rushing by, while wanting time to stand still.