Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, July 2, 2010
MCW: So, not to embarrass you or anything, but the first day I saw you, this spring? You were sitting in a fir tree in my front yard, looking cold and helpless. Your wings held the quiet of the world. I had pity.
HBird: Is that a question, even? Or a bad poem? [pausing] But since you brought it up, how do you think you humans look to us? Wingless. Hairless. Aimless, for the most part. Watching that blue-light box for hours at a time. Utterly and painfully–
MCW: Can I start over?
HBird: We’d recommend it.
MCW: We? What, are you the collective? The Borg?
HBird: That’s how birds talk, first person plural. Okay, I’m hitting the restart button: Go.
MCW: [clearing throat] That day I first saw you, there was snow on the ground. No sugar in the feeders. Can hummingbirds get their arrival days wrong? That’s my first question.
HBird: Of all the possible questions? [micro-sighing] No, of course not. It’s not like we never lived before feeders or can’t face the elements. We migrate long distances, in case you didn’t know, over things like the Mojave Desert. And we eat bugs. Find real nectar. Do without.
MCW: I guess I didn’t fully realize.
HBird: Of course not. You think we just buzz around on beet and sugar cane energy. Being tiny and exotic and fast. The fact is, we remember every single blossom we’ve emptied and know exactly when to return to it for more. You don’t even remember what you had for breakfast.
MCW: Yes, I do. Gee, I didn’t think “we” were going to be so prone to disdaining the human race.
HBird: My brain is over 4% of my body mass – which is proportionately larger than any other species on the planet. I happen to know you’ve been telling people crows have the most highly encephalized brains on earth, but that’s false. So. It’s hard not to make judgments. Except that I rarely have time for them.
MCW: Wow, that brain thing: is that really true? I mean, crows use tools, do unexpected things, and tease humans. All signs of superior intelligence.
HBird: Last time I checked this wasn’t about crows? Hummingbirds don’t have time for that silliness. Not to mention the egregious anthropomorphizing you’re guilty of.
MCW: Well. What do you think about then, with such a big brain at your disposal? Sincerely asked.
HBird: Right now, since my body’s recovering, I do have time to analyze the hummingbird condition a bit. Mainly I think about flying again. It’s what I do. I’m guessing you don’t know our wings are different from all other bird wings.
MCW: [looks down].
HBird: Didn’t you prepare for this interview? Read the FAQ, at least? Next thing you’ll be asking me whether we actually travel on the backs of geese to migrate.
MCW: [snorts] People think that?
HBird: People just like you. Anyway, we rotate our wings, up to 180 degrees. We do not flap them.
HBird: And, we don’t joke. Or use stupid interjectory clichés. We can fly in any direction, even upside down, and of course we’re known for our hovering – when we move our wings in a figure eights. [ruffling] We have more feathers per square whatever than any other bird.
MCW: Hey, speaking of moving: you’re moving! You flew straight into a parked car, I picked you up, and against all odds, you’re coming back to life.
HBird: Truly, the odds were against me, 3-1. That car appeared out of nowhere and I was going about 25 miles an hour, too. So. I am grateful to you.
MCW: Part of me wishes you had to stay.
HBird: Because you’ve always wanted a bird friend?
MCW: How on earth did you know that? I never considered a hummingbird though, ‘til I met you.
HBird: Don’t patronize. I know you want an owl. Or a crow. Anyway, I can’t stay. I’m better. Don’t you even know it’s against the law to catch me, or hold me in captivity? You can go to jail and be fined thousands of your dollars.
MCW: Really? Are state birds like state flowers or something?
HBird: [looking away, rolling iota-sized eyes]. The lark bunting is your state bird. We h-birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
MCW: So that answers that question. By law, you are free. And once you’re fled, you’ll stop analyzing your life and granting interviews? And get back to your day’s 865,000 heartbeats. Your nights of torpor. Your territorialism and solitude and mating dances and jellybean-sized eggs and airy bones.
HBird: [standing up, preening] So that’s how you work. If I had lips, I’d smile.
MCW: Our lips don’t just flap, they rotate 180 degrees.
HBird: Good one, human. My heart just grew a sixty-fourth of a size, and I didn’t think that was possible. Think of me in the airy way from time to time?
MCW: Count on it.