art: Nathaniel Wilkerson, Gitxsan Tribe

Maintaining an imaginary residency in a foreign country is not easy. Two weeks after arriving in France (In Tacoma), I’m finding that movies, music and cocktails only hold the illusion for a limited amount of time. The fantasy dissolves as soon as a disturbing news story or a crying child or existential angst captures my attention.

This morning I walked through the neighborhood with thoughts firmly rooted in my reality, as dark and moody as the December wind storm currently blasting through the region. I’m in a stage of life that’s unlike anything I’ve been through before.

For fifteen years, I felt confident about my direction in life, when I knew where I was headed, as well as why, how and what steps would get me there. That was how I knew myself: my unwavering pursuit of a career goal.

It’s disorienting, then, to be 41 and not sure about where I’m headed. I’m hovering amidst a field of possibilities – and an equal number of obstacles. I can’t do everything and be everyone to everybody and expect a happy ending – that’s the painful lesson from that single minded drive of my 20’s and 30’s. No, at this age I have to be mature and dedicate myself to the path that truly matters to me, even though it doesn’t lead to fame and glory.

 

 

The commitment is enough to make me run back to the comfort of an old, if ill-fitting, identity. And yet, I know I can’t go back to who I used to be. I kind of burned that bridge when I crossed it.

As I walked this morning, I turned down unfamiliar streets and looked at the swirling clouds and mini cyclones of dead leaves to find some external metaphor to give me comfort about my current journey through this strange land of unknowing. All I could see was the threat of dangerous weather. It’s unusually warm, yesterday broke the record high, a harbinger of the changing climate.

Usually when I feel spiritually lost, I ask the Universe for direction. Today, with gusts of 30 mph in my face, my request was less than polite, “For crying out loud, Universe, gimme something to hang on to!!”

A block from my house, I glanced up at a bare tree and saw the tip of a branch move. Then I looked closer and saw that it was a hummingbird. I didn’t have my camera with me, but luckily a fellow Tacoman captured this video of a December hummingbird song. It’s exactly what I heard:

 

 

The volume of the bird’s song surprised me. I’ve heard it before, but never realized who was singing it. For such a teeny creature, it’s got some big pipes… or whatever it is that it uses to make noise.

Hummingbirds seem so fragile. Even in the summer I wonder where they collect enough nectar to survive. At this time of year summer’s flowers are long gone, and even winter blooming camellias and daphnes are just beginning to bud. According to my online research, it seems that human feeders – and rising temperatures – are helping the hummingbird survive here year-round. Like a feathered Blanche DuBois, the hummingbird relies on the kindness of strangers.

Hummingbirds live only in the Americas. This was no French oiseau singing to me. So, when I got home I researched the symbolism Northwest Native tribes found in hummingbirds. I found this story from “Eagle’s Reflection: And Other Northwest Coast Stories” by Robert James Challenger:

It was a warm, spring day, summer was coming and the wild flowers were in full blossom. A young girl and her mother waded through the green grass, enjoying the bright colours. They stopped as Hummingbird joined them; bussing and darting from flower to flower.

 

The little creature fascinated the child. She asked, “Why does such a tiny bird want to fly so fast? Why doesn’t it just stay at one flower instead of visiting every one?” Her mother sat down on a hill overlooking the field and said, “Let me tell you the story of Hummingbird.”

 

Many years ago there was a fragrant flower that rose every spring to display her beautiful petals and bright colours for all the world’s creatures to enjoy. The people and animals waited anxiously each spring for this special flower to appear. On that day they knew the warm, kind rays of summer had arrived. Raven saw how much joy this flower brought to the world, so the next spring when it appeared, he transformed it into a tiny bird. The bird had the colours of the green spring grass and the flashing red of a setting sun. Raven gave the bird a special gift – to fly like sunlight flickering through tall trees. He also gave it a message to take to all the flowers. That’s why today we see Hummingbird buzzing from flower to flower, whispering a message. Hummingbird is thanking each flower for making our world a more beautiful place.

 

The mother looked at her child and said, “As you grow up, remember that like each flower, each person has gifts to give the world. In return that person will be thanked by the birds, animals and flowers for helping to make our world a better place for every one.”