I try, whenever possible, to sit in my house in silence.
That sentence is confusing in its grammar, prone to misinterpretation. I am a mother of a toddler. A toddler with few words whose primary means of communication is voice inflection. A toddler who loves the sound that aluminum pan lids make when they are smacked against ceramic tile. A toddler who learned to sing, long before she could talk. A toddler who thrives on rhythmic sounds and cannot suppress her need to conduct the air and dance.
I would be lying if I said I hated all the noise and chaos. Or that I would prefer her sitting quietly numb, staring at a television screen from a little ottoman. I love her energy and am often swept up in it. But there are other times, too. Times when I am tired, melancholy, or just plain low on energy. It is then that I need to recharge alone. It is then that I need to sink my hands into dough, reorganize a cabinet until it is just-so, or sit on a couch. In silence.
If I am lucky (and in Southern California I usually am), I will open a window and hope to hear little more than gossip or crows and the complaints of red-winged finches.
But last week I heard something else.
It was a strange treble. Almost like a bee’s buzz, but louder and deeper. It seemed to come and go but only for one to two seconds at a time. I ignored this sound for a day or so, until its repeat occurrence demanded that I at least look up, and out, to see what made the noise. I don’t know why it took me more than a day to be curious, but it did. I just wasn’t ready to pay attention.
Again, the tremble. I walk up to my open window and investigate. The long beak, teeny body, and invisible wings are the dead giveaway. It’s a humming bird that has come for a visit. The rich rains followed by days of warm sun have sent the Meyer Lemon tree in to bloom. The nectar is irresistible to those who feast on it.
Have I ever heard a humming bird’s wings before? Have they always made a sound?
Sound catalogued. Life went on. Days passed. I am given an unusual two hours alone to work on a home improvement project. I grab my paint brushes and rollers. I pull out drawers. I unscrew cabinet hinges.
After six years of living here, I have decided to move away from temporary decoration. This place will be our home for a while, for years. The oppressively neutral kitchen and dining room were a reasonable and conservative choice when I thought we would be giving this place over to someone else in a few years. I was reserving all of my creative energy for my next home. That one would have a great kitchen. That one would have bold color choices and creative furniture. This place was only temporary. We would be leaving here in a few years…
I spend most of this time working in silence. The window open to allow any paint fumes to escape. I am working, beautifying, talking to myself. And the beat of the hummingbird’s wings grabs my attention again.
I look out my window, searching for which stamen and pistil the long beak will be pecking. I find the long beak, but for the first time the hummingbird’s wings are at rest. She is perched on a branch, still.
Hummingbirds sit still?
I’ve never seen one at rest. I’ve assumed they lived in some sort of perpetual motion, unable to rest for a minute, as their To Do list grows long. And yet, here is a humming bird, resting. Sitting on a branch, as though there aren’t a thousand flowers that need to be suckled, a million little seeds that need to be fertilzed.
I watched the bird for just a few seconds, before the treble once again sounded and she was out of my sight.
Throughout the day I heard the wings again and again. Each time I looked up, I saw the hummingbird rest on a branch. I saw her take a break, collect her thoughts, and resume her work. Again. Every treble was a reminder to look up from the drawer or the cabinet door I was meticulously coating with paint, and to look outside, beyond the glass, and notice. We continued this dance until my work was done, my latex gloves pulled off, and my paint brush rinsed.
I thought nothing of it. Just a coincidence. A bird and a branch. Come and gone.
But she wasn’t.
The next morning I was surprised to open my blinds before sunrise and to see the hummingbird sitting there, quiet, in the blue-gray light of predawn. Then it hit me. What had looked like a resting to me had actually been work. She was building a nest, making her home next to my own, on a small branch of the Meyer Lemon tree. She, building a nest. Me, decorating mine. Perfecting, tidying, making due with what we have. The two of us, working side-by-side to create a nurturing space from which our little birds will someday fly.