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.