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the hummingbird

welcome to the calliope project

Something flew past my window. A brightly colored, winged deviant of the unbearably slow, hot southern California spring picture framed by my window. The unnatural blur brought me away from my thoughts of dying in the Sahara, or stuffing myself into the freezer or filling the tub with ice. The heat was impossible.

Still, a tiny, fragile creature buzzed about in the sweltering heat. I pressed my face against the glass with interest. A hummingbird.

No one (at least children) thought hummingbirds were common little creatures in our neighborhood. To us, they were like zebras, giraffes and dinosaurs. Sure, they existed or had existed, but you wouldn’t usually find one in your backyard. We had birds, alright, but only pigeons and crows and the neighbor’s annoying parrot. Big, dark ugly birds that wouldn’t spark curiosity in a meddlesome child but would make awfully good targets to throw basketballs, rocks and Frisbees at. A hummingbird was a rarity so naturally all the neighborhood kids would drop their baseball bats, jump-ropes and leaves their bicycles and tricycles teetering off the sidewalk and into the street just to see a hummingbird dash by. The bravest of us (and perhaps not yet the brightest) would attempt to capture the rapidly flapping creature between their hands, believing it to be just an oversized dragonfly.

It was always a ritual to stop everything and chase after the busy creature or just stare in awe. We were, or, at least I was always amazed at how something could be so small, fast and intriguing. It was one reason why catching one would be a heroic feat. It was impossible. Even if it were accomplished no one would keep it. Creatures like that could never be caged.

I hit my head against the glass, struggling to see where the bird went. Surprisingly, he had not gone far. It lingered by the unnaturally, realistic dog statue that guarded our front door. I smiled. That dog could scared away countless annoying salesmen, bothersome neighbors and over-active trick-or-treaters but the flamboyant hummingbird, daring and insolent, buzzed about in attempt to pester the giant, ceramic dog. 

I watched the hummingbird for a while with childlike awe. It must have been the longest time I’ve ever spent staring at bird. What was the matter with this one? He should have flown away by now but there he was, still pecking about the vigilant but lifeless dog. Hadn't he figured out that it wasn’t real, yet? Probably just taking the opportunity to pester a dog, even if it wasn’t real. 

The acceptance that the bird would not be there forever saddened me for a moment; a depressing reminder which children shouldn’t have to worry about: nothing lasts forever.

I grinned as a brilliant idea came to mind. If I couldn’t capture that bird, then I could immortalize it through a picture.

I rummaged through my drawers, searching for my cameras. I had a few somewhere in my desk drawers filled with useless sentimental objects that my parents called junk. My cameras were pretty junky, too. I had one or two that were cheap but working cameras that was made of flimsy, toy-like plastic. But I hadn’t thrown them out. Better to have a cheap camera than no camera at all. I finally found one of those kiddy cameras and dashed out of my room leaving the new mess. 

When I opened the front door, the bird was still there, still at the same mischief. I bent down slowly to kneel next on the Welcome mat. Although my intent was to not scare away the bird my excitement caused my to trip over the threshold, or a shoe or a loose rug inside. Anyhow, I looked up from my fumble and still the bird buzzed about the motionless dog. I quickly straightened myself and armed myself with the camera. 

The bird took not heed. Well, it must have noticed my sloppy movements by now but it didn’t bother fluttering away. It was like he was wading. Not only was this bird insolent and daring but it would actually wait to have its picture taken. A bird with personality. Its silly but it makes me want to have that picture now.

I aimed the camera, had my finger ready on the button but I didn’t take the picture. I was wishing I had a better camera, or that the bird would hold still although it must have been as still as a hummingbird could be, or worrying about lighting and the zoom lens that didn’t exist on that crummy camera. 

I wanted a perfect shot, like those animal pictures in zoology magazines. I wanted a perfect picture of that spunky bird but I knew that I couldn’t get a perfect shot.

The bird hummed away with impatience and away with it was my picture. I wanted the perfect shot but wouldn’t any picture do? It was too late now. If I pointed and clicked only a green speck or perhaps a blur would appear on the developed film. 

I closed the door and waited. Maybe it would return but of course it never did.

I still have the same fascination with hummingbirds but I never seen a hummingbird with such beauty or spunk or a hummingbird that I stood so close to or actually had some meaning to me. I never came across a bird that actually waited, purposely, to have its picture taken. It was just a bird, I know. But it was just fake dog statue that the bird pestered. It did pester a dog without getting killed. And me?  All I got was a blank roll of film and regret.