Flight Plans: #AugustBreak2016
Sunlight spreads itself across the neighboring hillsides, nudging the earth out of its slumber. A hummingbird glides easily between palm dates and salvia, chittering as it sips nectar, and I celebrate with her the sweetness of this new day.
This is my first entry in the monthlong, collaborative photography project, “August Break 2016,” a mindfulness activity that draws participants away from their daily routines and into the wider world. Inspired by a specific prompt, you snap a new photograph every day in August. No need for fancy equipment, and you can bend the rules to suit your needs or interests.
I’m using Susannah Conway’s #AugustBreak2016 as an opportunity to practice something I’ve struggled with: capturing sharp images of hummingbirds in flight. I’ll also be spending lots of time at my writing desk, polishing up a special project. Each creative act, inspiring and informing the other…
Some of you might remember that I participated last year. Aside from the healthful benefits of venturing outdoors, those photography outings had carry-over effects on my writing, all for the good. Focus. Experimenting with light and dark. Seeing things from different angles, and expressing myself in new ways.
If this sparks your own creative urges, I hope you’ll grab your camera and join us!
Rain and Beau take to the skies
Treat yourself, why don’t you, to our hummingbird hatchlings’ pre-fledge antics. Watch as Rain helicopters above the nest, hovers mid-flight, and manages a graceful landing on a twig beside the nest. Beau’s feathers get ruffled, but he looks on with rapt attention. Aryana chirps in the distance, as if to say, “Come into the garden, kids–let’s play!”
Not long after I filmed their playtime, Rain zipped off to join Aryana in the flowerbeds. Beau surfed the ocean breezes, hanging ten on the rim of the roomier nest.
See the shadowy “beard” on Beau’s chin? That’s a simple way to differentiate a juvenile hummingbird male from its female counterparts. Rain has white-tipped tail feathers, instead.
I revisited the nest before dinnertime, and voilà!
The nest is empty now, but my heart is full. I’m grateful for Aryana’s mothering instincts; thankful, too, for the fuchsia that camouflaged and provided shelter for three successful broods.
I also appreciate everyone who gathered around Aryana’s nest with me, watching her tiny eggs crack open, revealing featherless hatchlings that grew overnight, it seemed, eventually sprouted gossamer wings and needle-shaped beaks.
And yes, I’m glad for this schoolbus-yellow ladder. I’ve climbed it again and again with my camera, over the past several months…
…receiving firsthand the gifts that come of observing up close those tiny jewels of the sky.
Rainbows, flights of fancy, shimmery magic, and Mother Nature’s sensibilities: I’m grateful for this embroidered tapestry, stitched on my heart by a charm of hummingbirds. You, too?
Rain and Beau: Baby hummingbirds, about to fledge
Until you spread your wings,
You’ll have no idea how far you can fly.
Aryana, a non-migrating Allen’s hummingbird, built her nest in the fuchsia that grows along my front walkway, way back in December. And here we are, celebrating her fourth brood of the 2015-16 mating season.
Such a good mama: she camouflaged her nest among the foliage, and protected it from predators by sheltering it under a tiled roof overhang.
We named this pair of hatchlings Rain and Beau, in honor of the Orlando nightclub shooting victims, “because love is love is love is love…” And you already know how much I adore these tiny harbingers of hope.
Rain hatched 23 days ago, and Beau broke free of his shell the day after.
At the time, they looked like tiny raisins with stubby orange beaks.
But they quickly grew pinfeathers, and their beaks grew long and dark.
Mama Aryana fed them slurry mixtures of nectar and insects, and before long, they were fighting for space inside their cushy-soft nest.
While Aryana was off foraging, I climbed a very tall ladder to observe these wee little miracles and the architectural wonder that they inhabit. I never interfered with Aryana’s nesting habits, never touched her cottony treasurebox or the tiny jewels it protected.
I used a zoom lens and my camera settings to get close-ups, which make the hummingbird babies seem much larger than they really are. They also make this tape measure appear closer to the nest than it actually is. Mama hummingbird trusted me with her babies–a privilege and an honor that I’d never violate.
I snapped this photo just shy of three weeks post-hatch. Notice their their needle-sharp beaks and shimmery wings? They’re looking more like adult hummingbirds every day.
And at 23 days post-hatch, Rain and Beau are perched on the nest rim, flapping their wings and pointing their beaks toward parts unknown.
I’m snapping photos from my front porch now–stretching my camera to its limits, but I don’t startle them into fledging early.
As my friend Priscilla Sharp said, “It looks like they are sitting in a classroom, paying close attention, absorbing all the lessons from unseen teachers to prepare to go out into the world.”
An occasional ocean breeze wafts into the sheltered alcove, ruffling their iridescent wings. Teased forward by Mother Nature’s nudging, they seem ready for lift-off. But for now at least, they’re holding tight to the nest with tiny talons. Won’t be long, though, until whoosh! Off they’ll go.
On the morning after Donald Trump became the GOP’s presumptive nominee
Be still, and the world is bound to turn herself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. –Barbara Kingsolver
This handsome hummingbird made his presence known while I was sitting in my backyard this morning, savoring a steaming mug of coffee. With a flash of his red gorget, he somehow managed to pull me away from the hyperbolic headlines and to notice, instead, the beauty that surrounds me.
When he preened, his gorget flipped. Voilà: Bozo the Clown. Tend to the things that matter, he seemed to say, but never lose your sense of humor.
Fight or flight? Given the stakes in this election, I see only one choice. But first, I had to get quiet. We do our best work, I think, when we’re attuned to nature’s beauty, and to the joyful noises all around us.
On the wings of morning: expressions of grief, solidarity, and sanctity
The Robin is the One
That speechless from her Nest
Submit that Home — and Certainty
And Sanctity, are best. —Emily Dickinson
Three explosions ripped through Brussels earlier this morning, killing at least 34 innocent people and injuring 134. In the aftermath of this terrorist attack, people are linking arms with Belgium via social media.
To their voices, I add my whispered prayers: Peace among nations, peace in our homes, peace in our hearts.
And I hear the quiet echo of my grandmother’s voice, a comfort to me on this shrouded morning. “In the darkest nights of winter,” my Nana always said, “watch the skies and listen for the robins.”
Violence cast a pall over this second day of Spring. The robin’s song is muted by grief. And still–because of, and despite the horrors of this moment–I carry within my heart an anthem: Cheer cheer, cheerily, cheer up, cheer up…change is gonna come.
Faith, trust, and a little pixie dust
So much has changed since we last talked about Aryana’s hummingbird hatchlings on this blog. In brief: Within the span of 24 days, Wendy and Peter broke free of their eggshells, sprouted feathers and needle-sharp beaks, and took to the skies on iridescent wings.
I’ve already posted countless pictures on Facebook and Instagram, because…#bragbook. But from the online album my friend Carol Meadows so graciously curated, I’ve culled a few of my favorites. Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you all about it…
When they first hatched, a Facebook friend suggested they looked like plump raisins with candycorn beaks. They were roughly an inch long, and were less than 1/3 the heft of a U.S. dime. But look how much they grew and developed, in just 2 weeks!
Even when their peepers hadn’t fully open, they sensed their mother’s approach.
Aryana was a whirring blur of motion. No surprise, given that she had two mouths to feed, and a nest to defend against fluff-snatching rivals. I actually saw a female hummingbird snatch a wad of cotton from Aryana’s nest; but before she made her way clear of the fuchsia, Aryana was in hot pursuit, scolding and dive-bombing her like a fighter jet.
On very rare occasions, she cozied up to her brood in the nest. Even then, she was watchful.
In that shaded alcove, Aryana’s babies were relatively safe. They were shielded from the elements and well-camouflaged. But when the afternoon sun brightened that dark corner, she used her body to shield them from eagle-eyed predators.
Wendy and Peter grew bigger by the hour, it seemed, and looked more like their mama every day.
As their bodies expanded, their walnut-sized home seemed to shrink. But the nest held fast, thanks to the magical properties of spider silk, one of the building materials Aryana instinctively knew to use.
While their mama was away, the hatchling flapped their wings (wingercizing, some called it), and watched the skies for her return.
Aryana seemed unfazed by my presence, mainly because I was quiet and unobtrusive. Once they were moving around more, she even allowed me to record a short video.
In the blink of an eye, it seemed, Aryana’s babies were ready to make their way into the world. Wendy flew away first, leaving her younger brother more room in which to spread his wings.
It wasn’t long before Peter got the urge to follow her. Here’s what that final push looked like.
“Never say goodbye,” said Peter Pan, “because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”
I saw both hatchlings take to the sky. Sheer magic, like few people ever get to see in their lifetimes! And just so you know how rare and wonderful this really is: researchers estimate that only 17-59% of a nest’s inhabitants actually make it from hatching to full feathering and fledging.
We’ve hosted several hummingbird families at Chez Shore now. Blessings though they may be, they sometimes revealed to us the darker, seemingly cruel aspects of nature. But on the whole, their stories had happily-ever-after endings, same as Wendy and Peter’s.
They’ve flown the coop, but they haven’t gone far. Aryana’s watching over them in our garden, showing them the best food sources (including but not limited to “her” window feeder), and teaching them how to find/defend their new territory.
A couple of days ago, I was trimming the sweet potato vine in our side yard. A hummingbird whirred past my ear and landed on a nearby branch. It watched me work for a long while, tilting its head and cheeping. Most likely, it was Aryana or one of her fledglings. Heartwarming epilogue, am I right? But lemme also tell you about the task I’ve been avoiding. To wit: those teensy birds spattered a huge (yuuuuge!) mess o’ poop on the stucco walls that surrounded their tiny nest. The Crap They Leave Behind: let’s include that chapter title in a book for Empty Nesters.
Art Challenge of the Week: Showing the LOVE
Welcome, everybody, to this week’s art challenge. In honor of Valentine’s Day, our theme is–you guessed it–LOVE.
Meet Wendy and Peter, affectionately named for two of our most beloved storybook characters. They’re nesting in a fuchsia, alongside our front walkway. At 19 and 20 days old, they’re still too young to fly; but within a week, they’ll take to the skies on shimmery wings, as hummingbirds are wont to do. Love, ongoing and everlasting.
Vincent van Gogh once said, “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” That quotation goes to the heart of who I am: a child of God who views the world with a wide-eyed sense of wonderment. It also speaks to the joy that comes of taking field trips with my camera.
Art Challenge of the week: LOVE
Once upon a time, a consortium of artisans (poets, musicians, artists, and the like) tried to translate this complex emotion into words. But as someone wise once said, the language of love has many dialects.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, our Art Challenge theme o’ the week is (cue the harp music) LOVE. And lucky me, I get to host it.
Here, an opportunity to translate your own thoughts into images, using your favorite art form(s) and media. I enjoy photography, so I’ll be working with my camera. But Art Challenges are for all-comers. Painting, sewing, drawing, cooking…express your creativity any way you like, so long as you share your finished work in pictures.
Let your imagination run free! Picture yourself and your beloved, for instance, doing something that sparks your inner passions. (Hint: It doesn’t have to be romantic.)
LOVE isn’t all chocolate and roses, although it could be. It can be sweet as these hummingbird hatchlings, in a cottony-soft nest…
Or as absurd as this peacock, oblivious to its surroundings.
LOVE can be dangerous at times, and prickly.
Clingy or trusting? Reveal to us your vantage point, in literal or figurative ways.
There are countless approaches you might take, when it comes to this theme o’ the week. No rules; limitless boundaries. But may I offer you one suggestion? Leave no stone unturned in your quest for LOVE!
One last thing: Be sure to link your project to the blog entry I post this Friday.
Note: This Art Challenge is not a contest, and you most certainly don’t need to be a pro to participate. This is art for its own sake, no judgment or restrictions. So c’mon, share the love.
Can Spring be far behind?
“In the darkest nights of winter,” my Nana always told me, “watch the skies and listen for the robins.”
I mentioned that very thing, in my blog post last week.
She was right, of course. Again. Because, oh hey, look who’s splashing in my birdbath!
Rarely have I ever seen robins in this area, and only once before in my own garden. He perched on my
soul fence for a single afternoon, and then vanished.
Such cheerful birds, these harbingers of spring. I’m glad for their company, however long they choose to stay.
Seems Edward Jenner was equally enthralled by their visits. Here, his love letter to these red-chested beauties:
Address to a Robin
Come, sweetest of the feathered throng,
And soothe me with thy plaintive song;
Come to my cot, devoid of fear,
No danger shall await thee here…
Hop o’er my cheering hearth, and be
One of my peaceful family
Then soothe me with thy plaintive song,
Thou sweetest of the feathered throng.
–Edward Jenner (physician, musician, balloonist, and inventor of modern-day vaccinations, 1749-1823)