I’m not a nature girl at heart. Although I grew up in the country, and I currently live in the country in Alexander Valley, most of my adult life was spent in cities, and I am much more urban at my core. Because of that, I don’t regularly go to the woods or pasture or ocean to clear my head. It’s not my first instinct. Every time I allow myself to pay attention to that natural world, though, it cuts through to something true and deep.
Yesterday my partner Sabrina and I were sitting out on the deck having a smoke. (Yes, I’m a Buddhist who smokes. I know that’s almost as bad as saying you’re a serial killer in Northern California; let’s just say quitting is on my list, but a lot of other things are on the list, too. I’m working on it.)
Anyway, back to the deck. We have a hummingbird feeder off to one side, and we are constantly entertained by a pair of hummingbirds who swoop in for drinks, and chase each other off, trying to establish dominance over the territory. But as we were sitting out there, a tiny little hummingbird that we hadn’t seen before came flying up, and landed right near our heads, perching on a small mobile we have that is made of a red glass bottle with various baubles and wire. He was so close to us, we were practically holding our breath in order to not scare him away.
The little guy seemed plumb tuckered out, and even though we eventually moved slightly, he did not take off, which struck us both as unusual behavior. Sabrina finally stood up and approached him, and still he did not move. We realized he was just a baby. He looked like he was suffering in the 110 degree heat; Sabrina thought some of the sugar water from the feeder might help revive him. But it was across the deck, and the tiny bird made no move in that direction. He appeared almost too feeble to make the journey.
Then I said, “Why don’t you bring the feeder to him?” Sabrina looked at me like I was crazy. I knew she was thinking, “He’ll never let me come up that close!” But she shrugged, and went to get the feeder. I sat enthralled as she brought it back over, and directly to our little hummingbird. Not only did he stay put, he immediately began to drink out of the feeder. She was handfeeding a baby bird! He stayed for a few more moments, drinking several times, then, physically rejuvenated, he took off, fluttering tentatively across the yard.
It was only after he had gone that we looked in each other’s eyes, and fully realized the sweet little gift that had just been given to us. We had been completely wrapped up in that moment of watching, caring, and feeding. It was a direct experience.
Suzuki-roshi said, “When you study something with your whole mind and body, you will have direct experience.” And he reminds us, too, of what Dogen said: Mountains and rivers, earth and sky – everything is encouraging us to attain enlightenment.
Mountains and rivers, earth and sky…and baby hummingbirds.