by S M Chen

by S M Chen
1993
Submitted January 23, 2014
Photo: Anna’s Hummingbird on a Twig, by hummingbirdpictures.net; used by permission

One particularly hot, muggy Sunday afternoon, the kind to be endured more than enjoyed, the double garage door was open, as it is wont to be during various nameless projects.

Upon entering the attached garage from the house, I suddenly noticed a small bird perched on the crossbar of the motorized garage door opener.  I approached slowly and with caution, expecting it to fly away as I neared.

It did in fact leave the perch when I came within a few feet, close enough to recognize it as a hummingbird, about the size of a ruby-throated adult.  However, rather than flying out, which would have required a descent below the level of the now horizontal open garage door, it flew upward, toward the side and rear of the garage, the latter being the highest point.

It seemed to have lost sense of direction, as if it had sipped some bad nectar (is there such a thing, I wondered) or perhaps was delirious from heat prostration.  It flew around the space like a moth, only to return time and again to a crossbar of the garage door opener or to the electric cord paralleling the bar.

I became concerned not only for its safety, but its survival.  I tried to coax it with a hummingbird feeder, which I conveniently happened to have, containing colored sweetened water; I hung the feeder near the bird with a hastily rigged wire hanger.  No luck.  On an aluminum stepladder I climbed within touching distance of the bird.  It appeared to breathe with labor through open mouth.  I had never been so close before to a live hummingbird.

It was clearly not tame.  As I reached to grasp it, it flew off, leaving a few tiny feathers which wafted slowly to the concrete floor.  I did not want to injure it, so sought other means of facilitating its exit from the garage.  I left the garage door up and reentered the house, hoping my absence would encourage its departure.

A few minutes later I returned to the garage.  There was no bird visible, but I couldn’t be sure it had left.  I climbed a wooden ladder mounted on the rear wall of the garage.  My dominant wrist was still in a soft brace because of recent surgery, so my climb was slower and more tentative than usual.

As I reached the top of the ladder, and looked right, I saw the bird on a wood platform, within arm stretch.  Its mouth was open, its breathing rapid and possibly labored.  It seemed too weary for fright.  As I reached for it, I realized the precarious position I was in.  I feared being struck by the bird less than injuring it, either during an attempted grasp or my descent down the ladder with only one free hand.

It moved slightly as my fingers closed around it.  Rather than encircling its body, as I’d intended, my hand grasped one wing.  It fluttered as I went down the ladder as quickly as I dared.  It did not try to hurt me with its rapier beak.

I rushed out of the garage.  The late afternoon sun was aglow, low in the west.  Forcefully, I tossed the bird into the air, hoping it had the energy to fly.  I expected it to leave horizontally, perhaps weakly, to some nearby bushes or trees.

Instead, it rocketed straight up, perpendicular to the horizon, phototropically seeking the sky.  I watched in awe, wondering at the expenditure of energy I thought only moments earlier it lacked.

Finally, as it became a mere speck against the panoply of skylight, at least several hundred feet up, it veered horizontally and disappeared from view.  I felt a thrill akin to what British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins likely experienced when he wrote, in a different context about a different bird, “The Windhover.”

Won’t you consider helping someone who, like the hummingbird, has lost his way and needs a boost so that he can rise from the miasma of despair into the freedom and light intended by the One who made us all?