Saturday, June 19, 2010




1 : promising success : favorable
2 : fortunate, prosperous

This word comes from the Latin auspex which literally translates to "bird seer." In Ancient Rome, these were often priests who studied birds' flight and feeding patterns, and then based prophecies on said observations.

I've been thinking lately about the symbolism of the hummingbird. My friend Julie and I sat at a coffee shop a couple months ago while she told me about her boss's obsession with a hummingbird that built a nest in a tree outside the shop where they work (I swore I touched upon this anecdote in a previous blog, but I am unable to locate it; forgive any redundancy). Julie's boss fell swoon to the creature and began a blog of her own containing updates about the bird. As customers and neighbors began to follow the blog, the nest attracted more and more visitors every day, locals and passersby stopping to fawn over the nest.

I don't get what the big deal is, Julie said, it's just a fucking bird. I mean, if it were a bear I would understand. If there were a bear roaming around fucking Fremont Street I would get it. But it's a bird.

To be honest, I didn't get it either. I attribute our indifference to a few things: an absence in the appreciation of the whole "nature in the city" thing (perhaps because Julie and I grew up around so much nature—I also don't get excited about squirrels), an ignorance about the significance of the hummingbird, or, most likely, our general cynicism. I feel the same way about babies. When someone brings a baby into a room, all women within a 20 foot radius flock toward the creature like cat hair to a black wool pea coat. I just don't get it. And I just don't get the hummingbird.

Weeks later I sat on my front porch with my old boyfriend. We talked about nothing, the kind of conversation meant to mask the fact that two people have completely lost touch. At one point while I was speaking, his eyes moved past mine to a point beyond where we sat. He pointed:

Look—hummingbird, he said.

I turned around and there it was, bustling around in some tree in my front yard, which I consequently cannot identify because, like birds, I also know nothing about trees.

Oh, cool, I said. I don't know why. He seemed to be in awe by the bird, surely distracted from whatever mundane topic I was trying to address. As though there weren't already a vast divide between us, the bird compounded this separation on a grand scale. This moment started the thought, the wondering about the hummingbird and what it is I don't see.

Yesterday I bought a card in apology for my mother because we got into an argument (argument meaning I said some cold things, as I often do, and she took some things too personally, as she often does). The card was made by Papyrus, a company that uses nice quality paper and charges nice quality prices and whose symbol is none other than the hummingbird. As I unwrapped the card from its plastic protective sheath, a small piece of paper fluttered out. The insert described Papyrus' commitment to environmental sustainability and also described the significance of their symbol:

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. The hummingbird's delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life's sweetest creation.

While this is a stretch (especially the parts about personal connections and laughter—I'm not seeing the link here) I want this idea to resonate. I think the essence is revealed in the first line: hummingbirds float free of time. I think the awe lies in the hummingbird's movement, and perhaps in our desire yet inability to follow that movement. I think the hummingbird is not as AUSPICIOUS as it is perhaps bittersweet, reminding its witness of life's rapid pace, of things too fleeting to grasp, of beauty that slips through one's fingers.

There's more to this, I'm sure, I'm just piecing it together.

1 comment:

  1. We always all flip out when we see them in the greenhouse. There's just something magical about them. They're elusive, delicate, beautiful and seem to be selective about what they feed on. I always thought it was interesting that they are actually classified as an insect and not a bird. Think dragonflies. Same idea.