Six feet from the kitchen door, my neighbors spend the glorious days of spring squabbling from dawn to dusk—
If they were human, maybe we could negotiate the terms of living side-by-side…but these squabblers are hummingbirds. Particularly the rufous male guards the round of sugared water. Anna’s hummingbirds of both genders, and even female rufous, swoop and dive trying to get to the essential sweetness that sustains them in the early spring weeks of courting, nesting, laying eggs. But no—this feeder has become the property of the male rufous. Dancing in the air above the plastic red flower with the 8 little holes for their tongues he is lord of the ring.
Thinking we are St. Francis, creating a little haven for birds in our yard, we recite to him. There is enough for all. We put up another feeder.
But no—not while the little warrior is on duty.
All day long he fights for territory. Other hummers get past him from time to time—sip and dart away. Not enough for all—mine. Mine. MINE. He conveys such fierce claiming— I think it must be exhausting. He dips and sips and fights. I cannot tell if even his mate is allowed to drink.
You know this scene: how the tiny flying jewels, wings a whirring blur, come to drink at the feeder. How they swirl over the offering bowls put out by human tenders. You know this fight: guarding nectar as though there is not enough to go around… and yet, every day we make sure there is plenty. Abundance. Replenished by the giant unseen hands of “gods.”
I stand at the kitchen window: Learn! Learn!—I want to shout at him: There is enough for all. You could be doing something else besides defending what is already gifted. Stop fighting in the presence of abundance.
It doesn’t take me long to realize I am talking to myself: that this territorial behavior is mimicked in human behavior—only theirs in instinctual, and ours is driven by the mind and market.
Costco. WalMart. Amazon.com. Too many sugar feeders: too much stuff! We act out a certain madness fueled by this rapacious belief that it is our God-given right and economic imperative to destroy the garden of Gaia (or the whole system will collapse and there will be no work, no jobs, no way to sustain ourselves). Panic all day long. Fighting at the feeder. Plundering the ecosystem. Posturing for control. And fighting, fighting, fighting—most of it a lot more harmful than the buzz-bombing of the 3-inch rufous.
And then the scene changes when the light changes… slant of sun in western sky, that yellow look, as though the day is infused with honey just before night comes. I am back at the kitchen window clearing dinner dishes, look up, and now there’s a dozen hummers—rufous and Anna’s sipping together, some of them even sharing the tiny bore hole into sweetened water. World peace in the world of the hummingbirds.
They know: night is coming. It will be cold. They need to return to the nest, to tiny babes, to their mates, to the twig at the center of the tree. They need to calm down (their heart rate in full day-flight can reach 1200+ beats per minute).
So, all the fighting stops. They share. They sit down with their differences and suck sweetness together as the day turns dusky.
What time is it in the human world?
The long day of defense and avarice, of territorial ridiculousness (hello—Congress!!! Really!), of so much busyness and distraction is coming to an end. The light is turning to honey. Can we just settle down now, please(!) and all sip from the gifted sweetness of life and notice that there is enough? Is it time yet?
This is my daily prayer.
This is my daily work.