© R. L. Whitney. Originally published on June 2, 1998
It would seem that what Robert Browning called “the last of life, for which the first was made,” should have worked out differently, if he was right. Having survived the raising of the children and gotten to approximately the age RB was talking about, I find myself coping with bloodthirsty hummingbirds and a teen-aged cat.
In India, the Hindus traditionally held that life was divided into four stages, each lasting for twenty years. The last of the four, coming after the householder stage, allowed one to wander off, free as the birds, to seek enlightenment--or at least travel about with a begging bowl seeking food.
The traditional Hindu teaching does not seem to have transmitted itself to the West in the way that might be hoped. Enlightenment is hard to come by, and few there be that seek it, no matter what you may have heard. But, hey, the news isn’t all bad. The scarcity of enlightenment is the very reason democracy works so well. Can you imagine the disruption that would be caused if we actually elected someone who knew what was going on?
Speaking of birds, the hummingbirds are back in force. “In force” about describes them too. We only started feeding them a few years ago and for that first year, as I recall, everybody was very polite and entertaining. The feeder stuck on the dining room window delighted us daily as first Pop and then Mom would suddenly shimmer up to the feeder and after a moment or two shimmer away again.
It was the next year, I think, that we decided to put up two feeders, one in the usual place and one around the corner on the living room window. Our motives had less to do with charity than with a desire to avoid all-out warfare. Pop and Mom were back, Pop looking a bit more paunchy than the year before, but so were some of the kids. The kids also sought out the feeder--at least, they sought it out while Pop’s attention was elsewhere. Pop’s view seemed to be that it was high time the kids got steady jobs and provided for themselves.
The attention span of the hummingbird, considering the metabolism of the same, might be thought to be measured in milliseconds, but no. Pop took up a spot in the tree nearest the house from which he could keep his eye on his feeder and spent large parts of the day there, at least when he wasn’t attempting to run one of the freeloaders through with his beak. The second feeder didn’t solve the problem. Pop just shifted his perch over so he could keep an eye on both feeders simultaneously.
This year there seems to have been some sort of hummingbird explosion and peacekeeping is out of the question. I was on my way to the barn the other morning when two hummingbirds, the one in hot pursuit of the other, practically ran me down. Sometimes as I look out at the dooryard I think there is something wrong with my eyes. Everything seems as it ought to be except that the field of vision is continually interrupted by random streaks which turn out to be hummingbirds in hot pursuit of other hummingbirds.
We are not the only ones around here with an interest in the hummingbirds. The other morning, early, we were awakened by the sound of what seemed to be the demise of one or more valuable pieces of pottery. It was not the first time this had happened but it was the most impressive. The only question seemed to be should we rush down immediately to assess the damage or proceed secure in the thought that the damage would still be there to be assessed whenever we arrived on the scene? Since we had not the slightest doubt who the perpetrator was, we decided on the second plan.
Annie the cat has given up making life exciting for the two older cats. Unfortunately she has not entirely grown up. She too has observed the procession of hummingbirds. The feeders are too high for her outside, but inside, she thinks, the windowsill is the perfect place for an ambush. The disaster the other morning turned out to be nothing worse than a bunch of music tapes foolishly left on the windowsill, thank goodness, but she is still laying plans.
This all does not strike me as exactly the sort of thing Robert Browning had in mind.
Words & Images
We moved to our farm in Sussex, New Brunswick from Toronto in 1977, only moving away in 2014.