Spring and hummingbirds
My heart leaped. There was that unmistakable whir. I was on our back porch by the lilac bush planting pots of pansies. I heard it again and then saw the tiny body streak by. Yes. The hummingbirds were back, dipping and rising among the tight purple blossoms. I put down my trowel and just soaked in the sound and spectacle. I have a passion for hummingbirds. Their movement and beauty and size and speed and variety fill me with awe.
I first tuned into hummingbirds when I was seventeen. I was staying with my boyfriend, Jamie, and his family in their home in Jamaica. This family cherished nature in a way I'd never been exposed to before. Jamie's father gave me Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac and James Bond's Birds of the Caribbean. (If you are wondering, this is where Ian Fleming got the name for 007.) These two books awakened an appreciation and interest in the natural world that has nourished and sustained me ever since.
Photo by E. Vernon Laux
Most afternoons we would drive the narrow, rough road high into the hills behind Montego Bay and head to the tiny community of Anchovy. Lisa Salmon, the bird lady, lived there. We would arrive at her home, Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, at precisely 3:15, and not a moment sooner. Miss Salmon was a small woman who always dressed in a white shirt and jeans. Gruff with people, but tender with animals, she was an artist, a naturalist, a renaissance woman. I feared and respected her.
Rocklands was filled with all different kinds of birds, but the draw for me were the hummingbirds. For a small fee, you could sit on her porch holding a bottle of sugar water. If you were still and patient, the hummingbirds would come and rest on your finger and drink from the bottle. It was magical. There are four kinds of hummingbirds on Jamaica and three were at Miss Salmon's: the doctor bird, the Jamaican mango and the red-tailed steamer bird.
Jamaica was a big part of my life for five or six years, and trips to Miss Salmon's were an important part of it. I was always shy with her, but she was kind to me because I was gentle with the birds. One time, my mother joined us, and I brought her to Rocklands with me. She was always a bit scared of birds. I knew it took a lot of courage for her to sit and let the hummingbirds fly all around her.
My mother died in early May, 2000, just a week after her 80th birthday. I missed her terribly. That spring I spent a lot of time sitting on our porch watching the ruby throats come to the feeder I'd hung. They comforted me and provided a link to my mother I can't explain. I received a condolence letter from my old boyfriend, although it had been many years since we had spoken. When I opened the envelope, out fell a photograph of my mother at Rockland's bottle-feeding a doctor bird.
I feel an odd, wonderful connection to my mother when the hummingbirds are here. I experienced it again recently when I greeted the returning ruby throats. Thank goodness I had just put up their feeder, filled with fresh sugar water. Now for me, it is truly spring.
Laura Wainwright is a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury.