Opinion: Another morning in America

Male and female ruby throated hummingbirds and a bee feeding at a hummingbird feeder with sugar water.

Male and female ruby throated hummingbirds and a bee feeding at a hummingbird feeder with sugar water.

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It begins like any other day. A solitary breakfast with coffee, juice, a muffin and the morning paper. I scan the page titled Nation /World. In fat headlines, three articles catch my eye. “Justice to Review Response to Texas School Shooting”; “Ukraine: Battles in the East as Zelenskyy Visits Front”; “Thousands of Israeli Nationalists Chanting ‘Death To Arabs’ In Jerusalem.” Smaller news items tell me that the Westport Memorial Parade will be led by a 105-year-old woman on her birthday, and forecasters predict Connecticut summers are likely going to be hotter than average.

I pour myself a second cup of coffee and tackle the crossword puzzle. I am told that it is important for people living alone to engage in mental gymnastics. An active mind in an active body is supposed to lead us gently into and through our golden years. The puzzle is a cinch the first half of the week, getting harder towards the end, and by Saturday and Sunday can turn into a daunting exercise. In addition, it has the potential of becoming extremely frustrating any day of the week, when the answer to a clue may be perfectly familiar but remains stuck in that area of the brain that sometimes simply refuses to perform on command. When that occurs, one is said to suffer one of those dread senior moments.

But today I seem to be sailing before the wind, until a shadow outside the sliding glass door breaks my concentration. Something flits by, and stops at the little yellow and red feeder on the deck. The first hummingbird of the season is honoring me with a visit. I forget all about the puzzle as I watch it doing the rounds of the four nectar stations of the feeder. Sometimes it lands on a little perch to rest, while dipping its pointed beak into the sugary solution. Other times it hovers in flight while feeding, its wings beating so fast that they appear as a blur to the human eye, and sound like a small whirring engine. Like a helicopter, it moves up, down and backs away, all at the same speed.

My tiny visitor appears to be hungry, as it stays for quite a while, going around and around the feeder. Had it just arrived in the area? The ruby-throated hummingbird, which is the species that is found along the Eastern seaboard, winters in Florida, Mexico and Central America. It is only about 3 inches long. Where does it find the strength for that long journey twice each year? Suddenly there is a swift turn, a swoop up into the air and it is gone.

I do not return to my puzzle, but open the slider and step out onto the deck. I look around me. The feeder is still swaying slightly from its recent encounter with the bird. Down below I discover that the hostas and ferns have grown new fronds and leaves, and I remind myself that it is time to plant the red annuals that will provide added attraction to hummingbirds. I notice that the flowering bulbs are already well beyond their peak performance, but the azalea blossoms are on proud display.

I reflect how marvelously predictable nature is, even when the weather is not. Whether we have an early spring or none at all, cheery daffodils and forsythia show up in April to chase our winter blahs. Summer birds arrive in May as their winter counterparts go north. Trees and shrubs leaf out and bloom, and bees and butterflies turn up for duty as pollinators to make sure the cycle will repeat itself.

In all creation, only humans have gained the power to interrupt and alter what at one time was a hunting and gathering existence with clubs and spears as our only weapons. While birth and death are still immutable milestones, the time in between allows for adaptation to a variety of habitats, behavior patterns and functions. Free will allows us to choose between different options and select our own value system. To an extent far greater than among any other plant and animal species, we are master of our destiny. Homo sapiens, wise and intelligent man!

I go back inside and gather the newspaper pages. I put them in the recycling bin so they can be collected and used to make pulp for more papers. Papers that will carry a puzzle to keep my mind active, and bring me important news from all around the world under fat headlines.

Elisabeth Breslav is a regular essay writer for the Oronoque Villager magazine in Stratford.