She Sings With Hummingbirds
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© Beth Kingsley Hawkins
All Photographs by © Beth Kingsley Hawkins
I’ve heard the humorous line ‘Hummingbirds hum…because they forgot the words,’ but who knew that hummingbirds actually sing?? I discovered this in Santa Barbara when I first heard the male Anna’s. I looked to see who was making this glorious sound, and could not believe my eyes and ears so much sound coming from this loveliest and tiniest of creatures. Perched high in a tree with the flowing creek below, he was letting anyone who needed to know, understand, that this marvelous spot on earth belonged to him!* Wow!
Coming from the East, I had heard the hum of the Ruby-throat’s wings, and a few possessive and pugnacious squeaks of protest declaring a flower his, but nothing like I heard that day. I later learned that the Bluethroat and the male Anna’s are the only species of the sixteen in the U.S. that sing.
It was years later that I discovered we had a resident male Anna’s outside our retreat home in Sedona, Arizona. His clarion song brought so much joy, welcoming us home each time we returned. Once a friend renting our apartment, brought along her soprano recorder. Having just had her first lesson, she was determined to practice and make beautiful music. She sat out on the patio, sounding her first notes, G, A, and B. The next thing I knew, she was at the door with tears in her eyes, exclaiming, “The hummingbird is singing with me!”
I joined her, sitting quietly beside her, in hopes of experiencing it, too. Indeed, as she began to play, up flew ‘Hummy.’ Perched on the branch right in front of us, he sang and sang as she played. A magical duet! How amazing! (I couldn’t help wondering what kind of bird he thought he was hearing.)
It was over a year before the idea popped into my head to try singing to him. I wondered if I sang those same notes and imitated an Indian flute with a kind of hooty tone, if he would respond to my singing as he had to her flute. And…HE DID!! I was beyond thrilled!
Furthermore, I had an ideal opportunity coming up at the Hummingbird Festival in Tucson. I was preparing a talk on ‘Hummingbirds as A Source of Joy,’ delving into the symbolic dimension of these little birds with such big meaning. It would be new information to share. I learned that Doug von Gausig ( www.Naturesongs.com) owned a special parabolic directional microphone and recorded bird songs professionally. TaDa! I had a plan!
All through the year with each successive trip to Sedona, I e-mailed Doug ahead to ask him to come and record. But it didn’t happen that fall, then winter came and went, and now it was spring with only four days left before the festival to accomplish this feat! Luckily, he also wanted it for his presentation, and we agreed to make it a priority this time. However, each successive day continued to bring rain.
Our phone conversation went something like this:
“Is it raining there?”
“Yes, is it raining there?”
And so it went, How could this be happening in Arizona? Doug was clear that his sensitive equipment would not tolerate the rain - and that the sound of the raindrops on the microphone would also be intrusive. And now, the day before I had to leave for the festival, it was the same soggy story.
Disappointed and discouraged, I checked in with Doug again…
“Yep, STILL raining here…supposed to continue all day.”
I was about to hang up, when the Anna’s came to the ornamental cherry just outside the side patio and began to sing in the rain. I asked Doug if his microphone would be able to pick it up from ten to fifteen feet away – would it work to record from inside the living room with the door open? All I heard was a decisive “I'm coming!” and the click of the phone.
Whew, that was the first hurdle, to finally GET him here. I knew it would be a good forty-five minutes before he arrived from nearby Clarkdale. Now what! Hummy had disappeared. What was I thinking? How could I promise that the hummingbird would even be here when he came, let alone coming to that particular tree; and if he does, he surely won’t sing on demand!
I prayed that our united hummingbird consciousness could make it happen, but I knew it would definitely be a miracle. And would you believe it? The minute Doug came in the door, Hummy flew up and began to sing. Setting up in jig time, he recorded our duetmy calling and Hummy’s response, back and forth. Grateful to the little bird, I sang the words “Beautiful, thank you” on the same pitches. Hummy kept going longer than I had ever heard him sing beforejust as if he knew it was really extra important this time. He sang his little heart out in the rain, with the sound of Oak Creek flowing in the background, along with the gentle rain drops. It was definitely a dream come true.
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I knew from then on I would refer to that little bird as Bocelli. He had earned his new name. Quietly satisfied, Doug packed up his equipment and was heading out the door, when suddenly the elusive sun came out and Hummy flew up to that same branch and began to serenade us again. To my surprise, Doug unpacked once more, and Hummy Bocelli and I did our number again, this time without the sound of the rain.
Doug and I used the recording for both of our festival presentations, and it was beautifully received. I truly treasure it.
I have since heard some lines from a poem that resonated deeply with this experience. “Tell me,” she said, “What is the story you are telling? What wild song is singing itself through you?”**
* Casa de Maria Retreat Center, Santa Barbara, California
** Sally Atkins, from Expressive Arts Therapy: Creative Process in Art and life
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