Monday, August 29, 2016

Hummingbirds...and working hard to stand in place

A favorite spot in the garden
I know it’s usually the squirrel I bring forth for life’s funny little lessons.  But this week, I find my focus on another favorite of mine…the hummingbird.

I have had a hummingbird feeder for a few years now.  Last summer, there were three or four that fed several times a day and I loved being able to get a really close up view of these amazing creatures.  Their energy levels are completely over the top insane and amazing!

This year, I have just one that visits me a couple of times a day.  Usually early morning or evening, which is my favorite time to be outside just before sunrise or after the sun has gone down.

I’m no expert on the species…simply an admirer of their tenacity, beauty, and strength.  A few days ago, I was walking past the window and paused for a minute to look outside.  At that same moment, the tiny hummingbird hovered in place almost at my eye level.  Life is so fast, but these kind of moments…they seem like time freezes.  He wasn’t afraid and seemed to simply stare back, with equal curiosity.  I’m sure it was just a few seconds, but it was long enough for me to wonder why I’d been blessed with this uniquely individual experience with one of nature’s wonders.

And instead of just moving on I decided to see what else I could learn from this little close encounter.  What else might the hummingbird have to share and how could I learn from the every day instincts that enable this tiny bird to survive in its tiny frame, in all elements of weather.

The first thing I thought about was how they manage to hover in mid-air, exerting great strength, flapping wings at a rate of around 50 times per second…a skill that enables the hummingbird to pause in mid-flight and observe.

Well that was the first connection that made sense to me in applying this discipline to my own life.  I think about how much concentration and effort it takes in life to pause…stand still, and open yourself up to the possibility of living in a less restrictive, yet more deliberate way.  Speaking only for myself, I consider the focus and effort to stand still in time and live in the moment, without worry…well, I can easily imagine myself exerting an equally daunting amount of energy and discipline…for the simple purpose of standing in place instead of moving ten steps ahead. 

Hummingbirds are also more aware of their own limitations (feel another lesson coming on J).  With such a high metabolism rate, they have to conserve energy when food is scarce.  So at night, they go into a “torpor”…sort of like hibernation.  They slow their metabolic rate to 1/15 of its normal rate.  Another impressive feat and one we could learn a lot from.  Such a simple lesson….so basic…take care of yourself, rest when you are tired, conserve your strength.  Yeah, I’m really liking this sweet little bird.

But what about when life gets really tough?  I wondered how these delicate, winged animals survive over time…and what does a lifetime represent for them?

Sure, they have some wicked talent when it comes to flying and hovering in place.  But what about the harsh elements of the outdoors?  What about storms and wind?
These little guys are rock stars even in the toughest of environments, quickly adapting to wind gusts by increasing the amplitude of their wing strokes angle and changing the orientation and size of the surface area of their tail feathers into the shape of a fan.  So basically, all I need to do to follow suit is to similarly roll with the uncertainties in my own life, balancing and adjusting…adapting and learning.  Hmmmm…can’t possibly be that simple.  Or can it?

Let’s consider this a little more.  The average life span is around 3 to 5 years, but they can occasionally live a decade or longer. 

How do they weather the elements season after season?  How do they survive in the rain while flying?  I frequently find myself in a torrential downpour (metaphorically speaking), and struggle to find my footing and find a dry spot to ride out the storm.  These guys…they are unflappable.  They continue to fly in the rain, shaking their heads and bodies to shed water.  Even more impressive, these naturally “street smart” aerodynamic experts naturally adapt when raindrops may collectively weigh as much as 38% of the bird’s body weight.  Think it slows them down?  Think again.  They simply shift their bodies and tails horizontally, beat their wings faster, and reduce their wings’ angle of motion when flying in heavy rain.  Rock on, little guys!  I need to remember this on those mornings when the weight of my head to lift off my soft pillow is more than I can muster…I should be channeling Tom Cruise from Risky Business and leap from my bed and onto the wood floor, sliding halfway to my closet in my socks.  I have to wonder if softer isn’t always better.  The easier we are on ourselves, the harder it is for us to rise to a challenge, when faced with something less than routine.  Shake off the water, spread your wings, and don’t consider embracing the day as an option…but more of a privilege. 

There’s also some cultural beliefs by the Aztecs.  Talismans, representative of hummingbirds were considered a sign of vigor, energy, intimacy and propensity to do work.  The talismans were also thought to draw sexual potency (LOL we can skip that one), energy, vigor, and skill at arms and warfare (a little overkill for me unless the apocalypse and zombies come to pass) to the wearer.

It was also believed that fallen warriors would return to earth as hummingbirds. Although the lifespan would be super condensed as compared to a human lifespan, what an amazing journey to be able to see through the eyes of this spectacular bird and take flight with a kind of reckless abandon, instinctively responding to changing environments and somehow continuing on, without incident. 

I still have a fondness for the squirrels (and their survival instincts), but I’m feeling a new affinity and a sort of kindred spirit to the many strengths and traits these birds possess.  And the strengths I don’t share today, maybe I can adapt as well and learn to appreciate more of the moment by moment kind of living.  A strength that can help me exert the most energy at the most trying of times, enabling me to continue to adapt, learn, and live in a way that lets me appreciate the bigger picture. 


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