Tuesday, September 28, 2010


A new bird came to the feeder today whose ID mystifies me. I'd be grateful if any birders out there know its name. It had the overall look of a grosbeak, but offered mixed signals as to which species. In the guide books I consulted, it most closely matched a female black-headed grosbeak---except the same books indicated they live only in the western half of the U.S., never in Georgia.

This bird had brownish head & back feathers, with a distinct white stripe over each eye and a center stripe up over the forehead and crown of head. Its beak was of unmistakable grosbeak shape and size. It had pale rust colored breast feathers, and whitish belly feathers---with a well-defined horizontal division between the colors of the breast and belly. Smallish yellow patches on either side of the breast, near the wings. Wing feathers were markedly black with dominant bright white streaks (also very grosbeak-like). Similar in size to a cardinal. No crest.

It was most likely a female, but her markings seemed a confusing mix of both rose-breasted and black-headed grosbeak. In Decatur, GA. Late September. Maybe not a grosbeak at all---but that beak was pretty telling. I saw her only once all day---mid-morning. Anyone know what she was? Dr. Zinn? dkm

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Things Extraordinary

A thing I've noticed in my three-year habit of sitting outside for an hour a day paying attention to whatever comes, is that the first time one gives careful notice to anything is the time most surprising---and therefore most noteworthy. It is what nudges me to write. I may or may not have a previous peripheral awareness of the item that calls itself to my attention on any particular day, but the moment I focus on it with intention, a new clarity always arises.

Another thing noticed is that once learned in that way, the attended phenomenon becomes part of my repertoire of knowledge that is then, and only then, embedded in my organic fiber---meaning I will never not know that thing again. "That thing" somehow becomes ordinary, and later makes my response to my writings sometimes fit into the category of thinking characterized by the statement, "Well duh! You didn' t know that? Get a life, why don' t you?"

Such is the response I would guess careful observers of hummingirds might have if they read my recent elementary observations. So be it. It energizes me to describe it in graphite, both in the moment of the writing, and later, that I may read it and realize how far I've come. dkm

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Power of ZOOM or The Luxury of Fearlessness

A hummingbird came to investigate me on the deck this morning, where I sat with my first cup of coffee, still and silent, reading Physics for Future Presidents. (Don't ask. It's for book club, in the interests of being neighborly---the Good Neighbors Bookclub, to be precise.)

But how is it that so often two things converge coincidentally in one's awareness so as to give an extra punch to one's understanding? In this case it was the hummingird's behavior against the backdrop of my reading.

The sun was up. I was aware of the activity at the red-globed feeding station but chose to ignore it, engrossed as I was in Muller's explanation of the relationship between energy and power.
Engrossed and ignoring, that is, until a female hummer came to a full hovering stop in front of me---close enough that I could hear the hum of her wings, which is what arrested my attention---and close enough to be within the short range focus of my reading glasses, about eighteen inches from my face.

We looked directly into each other's eyes, in sharp focus, she and I.

It was a spectacular moment, full of fearless curiosity---a luxury afforded a hummingbird only by its remarkable ability to go from the proverbial zero to sixty in an instant---that is, to rapidly transform and multiply its energy into power. The power of sudden speed. A hummingbird could not thus check me out had it not the ability to ZOOM if I moved. It all lends an interesting perspective on the powerful vs. the powerless relative to size---and to world peace. dkm

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hummingbird Feet

I promised a post about hummingbird feet, so here it is. I was actually surprised to discover that hummingbirds had feet at all, heretofore believing the myth that they never light. That myth was debunked within an hour of hanging a new beautiful feeder on the deck.

"Hang it and they will come." Right away. Who knew so many hummingbirds were waiting nearby for a pretty red feeder? This one doubles as a garden ornament, brushed copper with shiny red glass globe. A bit pricey, but when I saw it at my local hardware store, I couldn't resist---having wanted a hummingbird feeder but refusing to hang the tacky red & yellow plastic variety. But I digress.

Back to the little black legs and feet that hang like two fine three-pronged wires under the floppy torsos of the tiny bird bodies hovering around the feeder. Tiny they are, but perch they do. All the time. They zoom back and forth between the cherry trees and the feeder, lighting on exposed twigs and occasionally even on the feeder itself. Their legs are no longer than 1/2 inch. The little prongs for feet are like the bent end of a staple, only black. I can't take my eyes off them, wondering at their size.

Of course, the hovering and nectar sipping acrobatics are equally noteworthy, but those I knew to expect. The feet I didn't. I can guess that experienced hummer watchers would be shocked at my ignorance. I also predict this will not be my last post about these remarkable ruby-throated gems. dkm

Friday, September 10, 2010


A phenomenon in the periphery of the back yard catches my eye every fall---more accurately, every late summer. A few leaves of blazing red pigment, beautiful and shocking so early in the season, stand out in a canopy otherwise green. The mornings have only just begun to cool. The afternoons are still hot. Yesterday's mercury reached above ninety degrees. One could not yet call this fall.

Only these few leaves are red in the sea of green. They hang on a single twig at the end of a branch in a tree that stands just across our property line at the edge of the woods. The rest of the leaves on this tree are still mostly green, though some have yellowed. Other trees around the edge of the yard are still fully green. How does it happen that one twig on one branch of one tree allows its leaves to turn suddenly crimson, when the rest of the leaves on same tree gradually turn brown or yellow as they prepare for the single ride of their lives to the ground?

The tree doesn't look healthy, and perhaps that's the answer. It sports several bare branches that never do leaf out. Maybe the deep brown and yellow leaves that fall with each breeze would be equally crimson if their tree were robust. This tree makes a valiant attempt at a new fresh canopy every spring. I've watched it do so for as long as we've lived here, 15 years. I don't know what kind of tree it is, and it doesn't matter. Its few red leaves are my latest model for tenacity when the writing work gets hard. dkm

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Simple Art of Paying Attention

So I realized yesterday, when I went to hear a speaker who, like me, writes a blog on the merits of simplifying and paying slow attention to the ordinary offerings of a day, that a few distinctions separate her from me. She, for instance---by physical demeanor---exudes serenity, talks softly, pauses long, moves barely. I'm pretty sure the people in my life would not describe me that way.

The speaker's words were soothing, inspiring, understated, funny, even outrageous at times. These attributes make for good writing, but it is not a stretch for her to slow down. For me, it is a monumental achievement. I'm only saying that slowing down is not as "simple" for some as it is for others.

True, she's been writing her essays for five years in contrast to my one, but I doubt I will ever pull off serenity as well as she. The irony is that, despite giving lip service to the joy of life, she didn't sound happy. Her monotone public-speaking voice denied inner peace. It almost put me to sleep, and I couldn't help noticing other eyes at half-mast in the auditorium. Perhaps her aura of contentment relaxed us. I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it felt more depressing than relaxing. I wondered if people of my demeanor vex her soul. She spoke of giving up toxic people. I feared being one of them in her view, but I do enjoy a day and the things it has to offer, including the people in my life. dkm