Hummingbirds in Rain

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My husband gets the photo credit for this one. Despite the fact that these critters are freaking EVERYWHEREI can’t seem to get a picture of one. His caption: “The majestic hummingbird in a rare moment of stillness.”

It is a beautiful day, a grey rainy day, a day for puerh tea and dark chocolate with sea salt. A day for hummingbirds, who are out in force here lately in any weather. Perhaps it’s their high metabolisms, propelling them out into the rain in search of food when other birds are tucked snugly in the dry shelter of the pines.

Whatever the reason, the hummers are everywhere. I expect now to see one every time I glance out the kitchen window to the feeder that hangs from a corner of the house. They perch for minutes at a time on the string of lights festooned across the porch, which they seem to have decided is a hummingbird-sized power line installed specifically for their benefit. They duck and zoom, driving each other away from the sugar syrup and over the house or into the oak tree, which has become a hummingbird high-rise crammed with the little critters. I’m pretty sure some mighty hummingbird-mama has raised a bunch of babies in there, because lately I’m seeing a lot of teensier-than-usual hummers.

But they’re not just at the feeder. They’re on the other side of the house, the wrong side, the side where there’s nothing I can imagine they’d eat. They appear at the window of my writing room, sometimes darting up to the window and staring me down through the screen. One was just examining the floodlights on the corner of the house, which possibly looked like giant silver blossoms.

Though the yard is lousy with them, their magic doesn’t fade. Every single flash of green-and-white is a tiny revelation, a call to be still and watch. Wait. Learn. They sit in the rain, fluffing themselves up and preening, reminding me that they are birds with an ancient lineage that links them both to my hens and to the dinosaurs. Their beaks are stilettos, and though they be but little, they are fierce as hell.

I love them–their viciousness wrapped in petite prettiness, their improbable toughness, their sheer persistence. No other bird is out in this rain. Their calls sound behind the soft grey veil, but they’re not flying. Only the hummingbirds are out in this weather, undaunted. They not only seem not to mind the rain–they almost seem to prefer it. I see more of them in this weather than when it’s sunny.

I crave this weather. Sometimes I think I’m wired wrong. Rain makes me as giddy as spring sunshine after a long winter makes most people. In part, it’s because the rain seems to heighten everything–colors are sharper, smells richer, and sounds fall on the ear like seaglass, tumbled to a new patina. Woodsmoke and diesel in rain are almost tastes in the air rather than scents.

Even more than this heightening, though, is the liminality of rain. Sunny days are straightforward, but rainy ones seem like an impossible magic. The air is full of water, a sea of drops. The spheres of elements meet and mingle, and when the rain mixes with smoke and the perfume of rich rotting loam, an alchemical transformation happens. All the elements, all at once, mixed in a concoction that must surely transmute base metals into gold.

Soon the gold will follow as the leaves change. The hummers will move south, taking the tiny vital dramas of their lives, brief loves, and lasting wars with them. I will miss them. It’s tempting to write off itsy-bitsy critters as “cute,” forgetting that we are no more alive than they. These hummingbirds are strong, valiant, stubborn. They traverse the in-between zone of air/water with astonishing grace and vigor.

In another world I would have been an ornithomancer, I think. In this world, I content myself with birdwatching, learning what I can and scrying the rest with the scant wisdom available to me, imagining the stories they weave through the rain-drenched atmosphere.

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