In a way, light unites the spiritual world and the ephemeral, physical world. People frequently talk about spiritual experiences using the vocabulary of light: Saul on the road to Damascus, near-death experiences, samadhi or the light-filled void of Buddhist enlightenment.–artist James Turrell (Allen’s hummingbird in my backyard)
Very few Monarch eggs survive to adulthood–mortality rates hover in the range of 90% or even higher! And still, the female Monarch lays new eggs every day–an average of 500 in her lifetime.
I’ve learned to respect Mother Nature’s ways, even when I don’t fully understand them. Even so, I do what I can to help offset those seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s how I’m wired, I guess. I’ve replaced our thirsty grass with drought-tolerant milkweed and nectar plants. I shield their nursery from weather extremes, and I guard against aphids and pesticide overspray, carried into my garden on ocean breezes.
Here, the story of Hope itself: struggles, persistence, endurance.
Helen Keller once said, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” We see this in our daily lives: hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, diseases, natural and man-made disasters. A microcosm of this truth is borne out everyday, in my little Monarch Waystation.
Because I’ve witnessed firsthand their potential for suffering, I appreciate each wriggling, hungry little caterpillar as a marvel unto itself.
Because I’ve wept over the sweeping losses caused by predators, I greet with joy each new chrysalis–perfectly shaped jewel boxes, housing secret transformations within.
And the metamorphosis of a microscopic, pearlescent egg into this Monarch butterfly? Nothing short of a miracle.
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?
The butterfly counts not months, but moments, and has time enough. – Rabindranath Tagore
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from gardening, it’s that Mother Nature has her own rhythms. Mystifying and maddening though it might sometimes be, there’s an underlying order.
Why, for instance, is this Monarch caterpillar doing sit-ups on the milkweed leaf? No idea. Sassy little thing, though, isn’t she? If all goes well, she’ll shed her beautiful skin a couple more times, and then transform herself into a chrysalis.
I’m less inclined, this year than last, to fret when things go “wrong.” It’s a subtle shift–a metamorphosis, if you will–to see yourself as an invited guest at Mother Nature’s garden party.
Speaking of which: Cool cats that they are, 4th and 5th instar caterpillars are very much attuned to the world beyond milkweed plants that fuel them. By the time they’ve reached this stage,they’ve made least four wardrobe changes, shedding their skins as they grow. Cooler still, they swivel their heads in the direction of distinctive voices and loud music. Here’s what happened when I got close enough to say hello.
I’m learning as I go, and I cop to my share of mistakes. (I put just-perfect plants in altogether wrong spots, for instance; and I can’t get my First Love gardenia to love me back.) But I’m working very hard to create a garden that provides shelter and sustenance to winged creatures and wildlife, a beautiful respite for all.
I admire from a distance, zoom close with my camera. But when vulnerable creatures wander off into dangerous territory, as this tiny caterpillar did–flinging itself onto the hard, hot concrete, at least three feet below the plant pot)–I scoop them into a leafy cradle and return them to safety.
I’m planting the seeds of my own awareness…releasing expectations and accepting with joy the gifts available to me in this moment, in this place. Life lessons, learned best in Mother Nature’s classroom.
It’s a relief, actually, to let Mother Nature be the guardian of my secret garden.
Sure, the temptation’s there, and probably always will be: I want to run interference, to protect these treasures from harm. But as Eric said to me just yesterday, “You’re not Mother Nature, you’re Melodye. He’s a wise one, too, my husband.
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.
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.
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.