The rain garden at Milliken Park in Toronto, Ontario in May 2016. Photo by the author.
Never had I seen a hummingbird in the city limits before. I’d possibly never seen one in person ever. But somewhere in my mind’s eye I had a distant, nearly evaporated memory. Something that allowed me an instant recognition that day of that flitting, hovering, flash of green. I was elated. I was spending the late summer’s weekday working at a rain garden, hoping to enthrall passersby with the many benefits of landscaping more rain gardens into their community.
In other words, I was helping direct people to the bathroom they thought they were approaching as they made their way to me. Then, I heard it. Impossibly, I heard a humming counterpoint to the buzz of the wasps that had been keeping me company. Then, I saw it. That tell-tale bill followed by blurred green wings unbelievably attached to a body the size of my thumb. Not once, but twice that same day! The hummingbirds didn’t have to be convinced of the virtues of the rain garden. They had come to feed at the native flowers found nowhere else in the area but in that rain garden. I was mesmerized.
A hummingbird in flight
I felt gifted by the sightings, despite the casual indifference a couple of folks expressed when I pointed the birds out to them. They sight them often. Frequent sightings wouldn’t make them less exciting to me. What a wonder a hummingbird is! A discerning creature, electing only to feed at flowers that have enough nutrition to make the energy expense of the trip worthwhile, they move at a humanly impossible speed. Their nests are the size of $2 coins, and they shame the best GPS systems. They are at once business and beauty, efficient and elegant, swift and spectacular. So I nearly cried when I spotted a third a couple days later.
Not at the rain garden though. I was visiting a sanctuary close to home, a Marian Shrine of Gratitude to be exact. I was almost alone, this time trying to engage with the heavenly rather than the earthly. Trying to let go of all the little burdens I’d loaded on myself and felt so weighed down by.
It’s a lovely outdoor shrine, truly a sanctuary overlooking the river in the midst of urban madness. All I could think of though, this particular afternoon, was how much nicer the place would look with more a more natural design; native plant species instead of whatever was cheap at the local garden centre. But I wanted to be contemplative and reflective and not thinking about what to cook for dinner or what to do with the rest of my life or if I remembered to write everything in that email…and then that hum. That ephemeral and sure flash and flit of a Ruby Throated Hummingbird. It winked in and out of the sanctuary before anyone else saw it. And took with it all the swirling and unsettled thoughts I couldn’t let go of.
I don’t know when I’ll see another hummingbird. But I’ll be sure to keep listening.
Milliken Park Rain Garden in September 2016
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