The Speed of Light



I’ve never held a hummingbird in my hand. And it’s not like I haven’t wanted to. My heart swells to overflowing while imagining the feeling of a tiny bird body thrumming at a hundred miles an hour against fingers and palm. It would be rather like capturing a giant feathered bumblebee.

I’ve always adored hummingbirds – and fed them wherever I have lived. They were especially abundant in the high desert of New Mexico, though the Rufous was by far the most aggressive and prolific, and would chase away any Ruby Throated or frankly any gossamer winged creature that dared compete with their man-made nectar. The sound of their wings was distinctive, and amplified like a nest of mad hornets racing around trying to rebuild a damaged hive.

In our house overlooking the Sangre de Cristo mountains was a greenhouse just outside the kitchen. Occasionally a hummingbird would somehow become trapped inside, and once my husband had to capture and release her back to the out-of-doors. It wouldn’t have been kind of me to traumatize the little creature further, so when he beckoned me to observe a sleek iridescent head peeking out from his gentle fist, it was as close as I’ll likely come to sensing the speed of light within my own grasp.



No hummers exist in Hawaii, and at first it pained me to realize this. But, as in life, time accustoms one to what is. Here the closest thing we have to the hummingbird is the honeycreeper, though the bird is quite rare and mainly discovered in the island rainforests of Kauai.



Also present is a hummingbird moth, though I’ve never seen one.



On the north shore of Big Island, all birds have it rough – the winds are intense, and little bright saffron and brilliant red things – doves and mynah birds too – are buffeted along their respective trajectories. Even the cattle egrets who fly in clutches over our house each evening just before sunset – navigating long white bodies with trailing feet toward hills and trees to rest for the night – waffle off-course in the stiffest gales. With mongoose and too many feral cats, it’s a miracle these winged creatures survive at all.


12 thoughts on “The Speed of Light

  1. Aren’t they amazing. we occasionally get them here but they are gone as soon as you notice they have come. I understand missing birds too, I miss the fantail from NZ, another tiny bird. Have a lovely day! c


    1. Hummers ARE amazing! And yes, birds are so ethereal for me – it feels as though they connect me to the sky in a way nothing else quite can. Have a lovely day yourself, dear Celia 😉


  2. I love hummingbirds. If I didn’t know they were real and you tried to describe them to me, I might be skeptical at first. Image such a tiny bird migrating all the way up here from Central and South America and not being able to coast on those rapidly beating wings. I think it’s like the difference between a cross country trip on a bicycle vs. a unicycle. The bicyclist can coast down hills but the unicyclist has to always peddle. I was taking a ferry ride across the Bay of Fundy from St. John’s New Brunswick to Digby Nova Scotia on my way to tiny Briar Island for a vacation and marveled at a tiny hummingbird flitting by the ferry way out in the middle of the Bay of Fundy where there’s no place to rest (except perhaps the boat itself which it may have done). I put up my hummingbird feeders this past week and I’m amazed at how fast the’ve drained the sugar water. I try to strategically locate a few out of sight of one another so the most aggressive hummers can’t guard all of them. There’s an aggressive aerial display that I call the “angry weedwacker” as a hummingbird makes U-shaped dives with intensified wing noises as it tries to chase another hummingbird away from its perch. They’re just amazing.


    1. Mary Lee, your comparison of a hummingbird to a unicycle is striking – your descriptions and metaphor are outstanding. I love reading your comments – they are always so well thought out, and lend a visceral connection to whatever it is you subjectify. Thanks so much for contributing your own brand of beauty to my blog!

      I wonder if your weedwacker bird is a Rufous? They are quite distinctive. Anyhow, enjoy your frost-free life 😀


  3. Once, Bela, I stood in my garden and watched a hummingbird, and when I stretched out my arm, s/he settled on my hand. Only briefly, but it felt like a transcendant moment. Something about these birds pulls at my heartstrings, and your words capture that.


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