Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Red and Blue and Yellow Balloons

Mama was driving the Mule and Daddy was hanging off the edge of the passenger-side seat, a rather precarious way of riding necessitated by the fact that Lily and Tamar were in their usual places – Lily sprawled in the floorboard and Tamar sitting front and center beside Mama. They drove up into my yard and Mama asked, "You had supper? Your Daddy just caught a nice mess of fish. There’s enough for you, too."

Accepting the invitation, I set out for a long walk with the intention of ending up back at Mama and Daddy’s house just as the fish were coming out of the frying pan. As is usually the case, I got there a little early and, entranced with the book that I taken with me on my walk, I decided to sit out on the porch and try to finish a chapter rather than join Daddy in watching Fox News.

It was balmy and just a little overcast. It was that moment in the evening when the sun has gone down, but the bugs have not yet descended in vengeance upon every available inch of uncovered human flesh. The late afternoon traffic on what used to be practically our own private road had slowed to about one car or truck every twenty minutes or so. The dogs were dozing on the deck underneath the rustling limbs of the pecan tree.

My reading was suddenly disturbed by Tamar running across the yard to stand at attention in the middle of the road. I didn’t hear a vehicle of any kind approaching so I dropped my head back to my book. She was probably scoping out a squirrel.

Then I heard her growl. That defensive growl that starts in the back of her throat and expands slowly until it gets to her mouth and forces it open to show teeth. I closed my book to look. This time she was shivering, her golden fur shaking like a cheerleader’s pom-pom. What in the world had her so wound up?

I followed the turn of her nose and raised my head toward the sky and that’s when I saw them: a bundle of balloons – five or six of them, red and blue and yellow, tied together with string and floating down the road toward us.

When you live in the country you pay attention to the sky. You watch for sunrise and sunset. You keep an eye on what might be rain clouds. You notice a hawk dive-bombing what looks like an empty field only to see him swoop back up with an unlucky mouse in his talons. You know what belongs there – rainbows and turkey vultures and crop dusters, butterflies and dragonflies and diesel smoke.

So when something as out-of-place as a bunch of balloons unattached to a hand comes floating across the landscape, you – if you are a dog – growl, then bark loudly enough to make sure your dog friend comes running and the two of you go chasing the balloons as the wind bounces them down the road just high enough above your heads that there is no chance you’ll ever catch them.
If you are a person, especially if you are a person who reads a lot and sees everything in literary terms, you stop what you are doing and watch the parade of balloons and dogs make its way down the road. You wonder who set the balloons free and how they came to be at this exact spot at this exact moment and, most importantly, you wonder what it means. You glance down at the title of the book you are reading which just happens to be Where God Was Born.

The author, who knows quite a bit about such things, supports the almost-universally accepted idea that God or, more accurately, religion was born in that part of the world formerly known as Mesopotamia. He’s been there and he’s seen the ruins of Ur and Babylon and what’s left of Old Jerusalem. He’s hiked through the Negev and climbed the Mount of Olives, even visited the spot that tradition says was the location of the Garden of Eden. He has a lot of support for his idea.

And on any other day I would probably agree with him. But this day, this night I’m standing in the lavender light of a place where there is always more than enough fish for supper, where looking at the sky will teach you everything you need to know, where balloons appear out of nowhere, and for this moment, at least, I think God may very well have been born right here.

Copyright 2007

Sunday, May 13, 2007


It is dry. Very dry. So dry that the new leaves on the holly trees at Sandhill have rolled into tight brown spirals that make them look like miniature cigars. They disintegrate into fine powder when pressed between my thumb and index finger.

I’m pretty sure that the dryness has something to do with the fact that I’ve not seen any hummingbirds this spring. Not one. And that disappoints me.

Mixing up the nectar that looks like cherry Kool-Aid, funneling it carefully into the feeders and then watching the aerial stunt shows of the bird kingdom’s imps has become one of the truest delights of springtime for me.

We started this cooperative effort, the hummingbirds and I, about four years ago. I’d never noticed any of them around Sandhill proper though there always seemed to be a few floating around Mama and Daddy’s house. One day a visitor noticed a single bird hovering outside the living room window - mesmerized, apparently, by his own reflection – and videotaped the performance to show me when I returned from work.

I was so infatuated that I insisted we drive back to town immediately to buy a feeder. I put it up outside the dining room window and within a couple of days I was being entertained by the hummingbird and his friends while I ate dinner.

Last summer, when I added the deck to Sandhill, I also added another feeder, hanging it on a shepherd’s crook at the corner of the deck. This year I got a third – a globe the size of a small canteloupe made of thick glass like a Coca-Cola bottle the color of the ocean at mid-morning – and hung it in the chinaberry tree in the back yard.

On the first warm Saturday I mixed up some nectar and filled all three, ready for the arrival of my hyperactive friends.

Funny thing: Here we are, the middle of May, and I’ve not see a single hummingbird.
I come, the feeders are empty. I fill them up. A few days later, they are empty again. I fill them again. And again. And still no hummingbirds. I can’t make them come. All I can do is hope.

Standing under the chinaberry tree the other evening, at just twilight, ocean blue orb balanced in the palm of one hand, ruby-colored liquid pouring out of a pitcher held in the other hand, I had an epiphany.

"Feeding invisible hummingbirds requires not hope, but faith," I heard my heart whisper.
I stopped to consider that. Hope is very still. Quietly it gazes with rapt attention at the future that is not yet, but might be. Faith, on the other hand, is anything but still. It taps its foot, strums its fingers. It remembers, no, not just remembers, but depends on the past.

Hope pulls. Faith pushes.

Hope desires, longs for, imagines hummingbirds. Faith fills the feeders.

It is hard sometimes to know which of the two virtues is needed. Hard to know whether to turn one’s back on what has been and put all one’s eggs in the basket of what might be or to leave one’s eggs in the nest, knowing that they, kept warm by the body of the mother hen, will hatch in their own time.

And, then, like most epiphanies, this one shifted a little. "Of course," my heart said, still whispering, but a little louder, "sometimes you need both. Sometimes," she said, "faith and hope work together. Sometimes you need to act on what the past taught you in order to imagine what the future might be."

I put the rubber plug back into the feeder, hung it back up on the tree and walked into the house, fairly certain that all that whispering had to do with something other than hummingbirds. And absolutely certain that one day, one day soon, I was going to see a hummingbird.

Copyright 2007