|A hummingbird preserved as decoration from the New York Historical Society's recent exhibition "Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife." Credit: Adam Tschorn|
It is a clear cool September day. It is the kind of day that heralds the iconic Vermont foliage season. It is bookended by days of late summer heat and humidity and a forecast of Indian summer heat to come.
It is the kind of day that urges fall housecleaning, stacking wood, putting the garden to bed. It has been said that September is second only to the dawn of a new year in January as a “re-set” month. And that is certainly true for me. Always a casual housekeeper, I am armed with broom and vacuum cleaner, trash bags and disinfectant cleaners. I am about to tackle the long-neglected “shed way” that is the only easily accessible entrance to my house, a double-doored 4x4 space that also houses my garden tools, yard toys, a few decorative plants and the detritus of living in the country. And its two little windows and their sills – one on each side -- are the graveyard of ladybugs, a few furry bumblebees, a curled-up spider and, it turns out, the carcass of an ill-fated hummingbird.
My breath caught in a moment of sadness at this undeserved fate; caught between doors and unable to escape this tiny gem perished with its tiny, pointed, thorn-like beak and iridescent green feathers perfectly intact. Somehow I could not leave it alone there. Nor could I throw it away. I envisioned another use for it. So I placed it in a tiny white Lord & Taylor jewelry box, carefully wrapped in clean white tissue paper which I then moved to the temporary funeral home of my deep, black leather purse.
Who would give a last bit of love to this tiniest of nature’s marvels?
Most adults who live in the country, familiar with ebb and flow of life and death as they are, would certainly not be impressed -- or even very curious.
But great-grandson, Carter, six years old and already very familiar with the toys and curiosities of my shed way would probably like this … Maybe.
When I saw him at our family’s country store shortly thereafter, I called him over to me, opened my purse and pulled out the tiny box. His big blue eyes got even bigger and rounder as I carefully unwrapped the tiny mummy with its luminous colors. His first reaction was sadness at this wee death. Then he looked carefully at the long beak and layers of feathers and took off across the ancient floor boards of the store to find someone with whom to share his discovery. He was as excited about this treasure as the original recipient of the piece of jewelry in the Lord & Taylor box must have been. It was his gem.
After exhausting the supply of customers and employees at the store, he cradled the bird gently in his arms and announced his intention to take it to school to share some more. Knowing the school, I was sure this would be accepted and, perhaps, serve as the starting point for an examination of the brief and stunning life of a hummingbird.
I was happy that he liked this little not-from-Walmart gift. I was glad that he could be sad but still see the beauty even in death. Maybe that is an old person’s wish.
Maybe it is life in miniature.