Hummingbird Holy Grail?
Ah! Sweet mystery of life
At last I’ve found thee
Ah! I know at last the secret of it all;
All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning
The burning hopes, the joy and idle tears that fall! *
Please allow a story to be told, one that is both happy and bittersweet.
It all began on an unseasonably cooler summer afternoon. The sun had passed over the multi trunk silver maple tree and was setting under the row of river birches that line the western property line of the Fairegarden. The chores on the daily list had been completed. Dinner had been planned and the ingredients assembled. The old camera, Canon Powershot A720 was in tow because earlier in the day the first Eastern swallowtail butterfly had been spotted, fluttering around the Buddleia ‘Potters Purple’. The flutterbys had been missing in action from the garden planted for their delight so far this season. Our heart rose at the thought of their return.
There is a blue chair, borrowed from the patio set that sits on the lower deck, positioned at the end of the ramp that leads to the upper garage deck. The railings hide the occupant slightly for better snapping of images of the butterflies as they make their nectar gathering rounds on the flower heads. It is our favorite resting place after the sun has moved across the sky enough to shade the area. We sat in that chair, camera turned on and waited for the yellow and black flying flower to meander our way.
Suddenly, very suddenly we were startled by the throbbing wings of our resident hummingbird hovering eye to eye with us about one foot away from the blue chair. Paralyzed in brain and body the thought raced through the synapses, if we only had our camera. The light bulb did finally illuminate and the camera was raised, the shutter button pushed without lining up the LCD screen, hoping the bird would be in the shot. It flew away as soon as we moved but was captured in the image. We were excited but disappointed that the thought process did not operate fast enough to get the image of the staring contest between bird and human. It had hovered there for what seemed an eternity, the moment for which we had been waiting forever.
Let us back up a bit. There is a hummingbird feeder hanging just outside the glass sliders in the addition that joins the main house and the garage. We sit in the lazyboy facing out to the back garden with the laptop on its pillow padded lapdesk by the hour. Hummingbirds visit the feeder several times an hour, all day long, rain or shine. Sometimes they hover at the glass, looking inside for several seconds. Do they see me sitting there, one wonders. While working in the garden, almost always on bended knee, head down and close to the ground, the hummers will buzz around as they move from flower to flower. I always think, if only the camera were at hand, and then go on working. Here was the big opportunity. The camera WAS in hand, and the hand was not even covered in dirt, the chair offered a comfortable position from which to shoot, the bird was inches away from my face, and I missed the shot. Bummer.
But wait! The camera is still turned on and the hummingbird has returned. Not to check out the person sitting in the blue chair, but to visit the inherited tiger lilies growing with the passalong tall garden phlox that front the Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Mops’ hedge just a few feet away. The camera starts snapping.
After a couple of shots it is remembered to zoom in for a closer look. Too bad it wasn’t the new camera with the 20x zoom, the Canon Powershot sx1 IS, but that is the way life works. The hummingbird savored the offerings of the lilies, holding onto the stamens for support for what seemed like minutes but was probably seconds.
Is this the Holy Grail moment? Is this the sharply focused close up image of a hummingbird feeding in nature? Unfortunately no, it is not. However, it is far and away the best chance with which we have ever been presented to capture an image of the sweet tiny denizen of the Fairegarden. It was a learning experience, a baby step towards that lofty goal.
The lesson taught by this experience was this …… plant more tiger lilies. (And keep the camera close by.) These tall lilies were growing here amongst the jungle of vines and decaying fruit trees on the slope when we bought the house. After a backhoe cleared and terraced the steep hill, they appeared the next spring. We were thrilled to have them and learned they would grow easily from the little bulbils that grow where the leaves meet the stem. But later it was read that these old fashioned lilies could spread a lily virus that would affect other lilies and lead to the disfigurement and death of newer cultivars. Grudgingly all the tigers were dug up and put into the garbage so as not to infect the more desirable but more susceptible asiatics and orientals. But as is often the case, we did not get all the bulb parts and they regrew. By that time our stance had softened towards them. We had missed the tall orange flowers with the dark spots and allowed them to remain.
All the lilies have been growing without signs of sickness for several years now. Since the hummingbird incident, the plan is for the tiger lilies to be spread between the evergreen golden hedge and the deciduous azaleas that line the path. The tiger lilies are tall enough to rise above them and the shrubs help hold the stems erect during wind and rain. There are no other lilies in that bed. It is felt the allure of the orange blooms to the hummingbirds more than offsets the danger, if there is one, to the rest of the lilies. If this is wise, who can tell, but is hoped the chance to capture the elusive Hummingbird Holy Grail will come again. Soon.
*AH ! SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE
(Victor Herbert / Rida Johnson Young)
The first line of this song was featured in the brilliant Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein, sung by the inimitable Madeline Kahn. Click here if you dare. The situation is adult themed but hilarious.