The Californians among you may scoff it's commonplace, but here in the Upper Midwest any sight of a hummingbird is reason to gaze in wonder. This tiny Western Hemisphere native weighs only a tenth of an ounce. Its wings flap so fast that it hovers like a helicopter and can fly in any direction, even backward. Visible most often at bright red flowers for their nectar, sometimes one hovers two feet in front of me to stare me in the eyes. I’ve rarely seen one fly away and never on a branch. Instead, they seem to disappear as suddenly as they appeared, by magic.
These spellbinding birds have inspired literally dozens of poets. Emily Dickinson celebrates their evanescence. D.H. Lawrence pictures them flashing ahead of creation. Mary Oliver calls them “tiny fireworks.” And Robert Frost prays in springtime,
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.”
Image: Female ruby-throated hummingbird sipping beebalm nectar. Photo by Joe Schneid.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.