I was writing a ridiculous Hallmark Christmas story about a hot homeless man and a foxy social worker when I looked up to the towering apple tree in the neighbor’s yard and noticed several hummingbirds feeding on the blossoms. I stopped writing my drivel and watched.
The scene reminded me of the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver that I had read earlier that morning posted in one of the poetry kiosks around my neighborhood.
Yes, the hummingbirds reminded me I am not alone in this terrible American society of consumption, anger, insanity and judgment. There are trees and beavers and flowers and there are the cackling geese overhead Oliver so memorably recounts, and inspired me to recount my helping to save a rare sub species of Alaska Canadian Goose from the Aleutian Islands from extinction. That will always rate as some of the greatest work of my life, perhaps topping the planting of 15,000 trees in Oregon’s denuded coastal watersheds and certainly all the days teaching high school, which feels more like dust in the wind with each passing year. I hate that song but that about sums up my teaching career compared to geese and trees.
But back to the hummingbirds. I read not too long ago in a massive history of humankind how one PNW Indian tribe used hummingbird skulls as a type of monetary unit, but one that was never traded but simply accumulated and admired.
Hummingbird skulls as currency!
I was both repelled and electrified by this. You just know the tribal members didn’t trap and kill hummingbirds for their skulls. They found them in the wild.
How do you find a a hummingbird’s skull in nature. I have found nests and a couple hummingbirds knocked out by collisions with my windows. I have also seen a hummingbird fly through a bonfire and read a magazine article written almost 75 years ago about a strange Oregon man who invented a device that he wore over his head, similar in appearance to a diving bell, that was a hummingbird feeder that could feed up to 20-30 hummingbirds at a time as he walked around his yard. I am not making this up.
I watched the show in the apple tree for a good half hour and then went back to writing the drivel, and just knew I would put a hummingbird in the Christmas story, perhaps having one visit a feeder in an encampment, which I have actually seen more than once.