When Hummingbirds Call


When, last, did you hear the song of a hummingbird? It’s a sound that I recognize immediately, and yet, if I try to think of it, right now, in my head, I can’t mimic it exactly. It’s an odd sound. Just the other day I was sitting beneath the maple tree, and I heard it–like metal, like dropped coins falling into a dark pond of water. Without question, without seeing it, I knew it was a hummingbird.

The first time I heard that sound, I was on walk, and I stopped to watch a woodpecker tap into a telephone pole. As I stood there I heard a tight creaking, like wind caught in willow branches, and I looked around for its source. And, there on a blossoming pear tree, rank in its aging sweetness, were more hummingbirds than I’d ever seen. I glanced around at the grass yards, the quiet houses blank with mid-afternoon. Had no one else seen this? The crinkle sound came again, and I realized at last that it was coming from the hummingbirds, with their wings so fast I could not see them. I’ll never forget this, I thought. I’ll never forget that sound.

And so when I hear it I trust in that deep memory–the same unthinking knowledge that has taught me to remember plants, to remember where I’ve seen them, the soft turns in the trail where they grow. It’s the same knowledge that tells me the difference between Jupiter and Venus, and the time of the sun’s shadow.

And so when I heard that sound, that day beneath the maple tree, like a metal coil unfurling in the wind, I was not surprised at all when, a few moments later, a hummingbird flew by, its back a sharp green, like leaves in sunlight.



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