It had to be perfect. Just the right colour. Ruby red. Just the right shape. Easily visible from the air. It had to reflect the light and glisten in the sun. It had to say “come to me and I will give you the finest nectar!” It had to be the perfect hummingbird feeder.
It was, after all, going to be my birthday present. I was about to become 73. Not a particularly unique year… Not a quarter of a century, the beginning of a new decade or even mid-decade. Not so old as to be astonishing, but certainly no longer young. I was not going to have any celebration. But for some reason, this particular year felt different. Tinged with sadness. Poignant. And a longing for something I could not identify.
I wanted something special. Strange, how growing older has changed my definition of ‘special’. Years ago, it might have meant taking a trip to a lovely bed and breakfast somewhere for the weekend. Or buying pretty clothes or a piece of jewellery. I would have longed for a party, but those things are no longer possible or important.
What would make me happy would be watching hummingbirds come to my feeder. Amazing creatures, hummingbirds! They weigh as much as three paper clips! They can fly upside down and backwards. They can see further than humans. Their eggs are the size of jelly beans. Their tongue is like a straw. They fly 3,000 miles during their migrations from Canada to Mexico and back. If I were blessed, they would spend time with me!
So it was, that on the Saturday before my birthday, I set out to find my present.
My first stop was a lovely shop that specialised in everything for birds. I was sure to find what I wanted there, but to my surprise, I did not! There were lots of bird feeders, but they were too small or too large, not the right shape or color or just the usual plastic ones. I was disappointed.
I thought I should try my local farmer’s market. Springdale Farms is one of my favourite places. I can spend hours wandering around looking at all the locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Certainly, I would buy something delicious from their bakery… Cinnamon twists always find their way into my basket. There are plants and flowers so beautifully displayed they take your breath away and make even those people who never care for gardens pause and smile. Best of all, they have a section devoted to birds. Food, houses, arts and crafts and feeders… where to begin? I was a woman on a mission and knew exactly where to start.
I headed for the hummingbird feeders. There were so many! They hung from rafters and sat on table tops. I had company to help me with my selection. The two long-time resident cats, Ginger and Max, purred as I paused to pet them and ask their opinions. We narrowed the choices to three. I stepped back, viewing them from every angle, when I caught sight of a display of handcrafted birdhouses. Oh! They were amazing! Tiny, colorful cottages. Some with front porches and flower boxes. I was enchanted. And then, entrapped. One was definitely going home with me. Yellow, with blue shutters and door. And a little dog sitting on the step. An extra present. The cats approved.
Finally, I chose the perfect ruby red vintage glass feeder and headed to the cashier, two birthday presents and cinnamon twists in my basket. “How pretty,” she exclaimed! “For my birthday,” I replied. She laughed, a look of delight and approval flooding her face. “Happy Birthday! You searched for these for quite some time. They are sure to bring you pleasure.”
And they do.
It has been several weeks since I found just the right place to hang my hummingbird feeder and they visit regularly. I often stand very still, watching them and wondering what it is that makes such tiny creatures overcome so many obstacles in order to travel great distances, nest, and build families. I realise that it is the drive to live, the same need that all creatures, including humans, have. That realisation is, I have come to believe, what drove my search.
It wasn’t, after all, just about finding a birthday present – the perfect hummingbird feeder. It was, and is, my search for life!
A recent visit to the orthopedic surgeon revealed a diagnosis more serious than I anticipated and something I have been dreading. My degenerative disc disease has progressed quickly in the last year, and my life is going to be dramatically different. I will have to make some hard decisions going forward. Where to live? How to manage immobility and pain. Risk surgery? Or accept a wheelchair? How to do this living alone, without a partner or family? What kind of life will I have? How do I make it worth living?
I will begin my search. Unprepared, frightened, uncertain, but determined. With knowledge I did not realise I already have.
How do I find a life worth living as I grow older? In the face of the death of loved ones? In the face of life-changing illness? In the face of financial difficulty? In the face of aloneness? There are some things I already know.
I find life in a hummingbird feeder. A birdhouse. A beautiful sunrise or sunset. A talk with a friend. The sound of rain on the window as I sit in my cozy armchair. An interesting class. Music. Art. Photography. A good book. Writing. Watching my flowers grow. Cooking with my herbs. Moving forward with my program ‘YBAlone’. Finding reasons to laugh. Simple pleasures. Like tiny pebbles among giant boulders! They are everywhere! If I search, I will continue to find others. And then… I won’t be just living, I will be alive!