A friend – a smart, thoughtful and talented young mother of three - recently posted a question on social media asking what her friends do when they’re feeling grumpy.
Knowing that this young lady is seldom grumpy, I suspect she gathering material for her blog, which is oriented to young mothers. Still, her question drew dozens of answers, mostly predictable: Meet a friend for coffee or lunch. Play with your children. Listen to upbeat music. Meditate.
I responded myself, in a different vein. But as I studied the other responses, I was struck by how they were – while invariably well-intentioned – almost entirely anthropocentric, i.e., human-centered.
Apart from suggestions about “going outdoors” or “taking a walk,” there wasn’t a single suggestion about seeking inspiration and comfort from nature.
Think about that. It says something about our evolving, high-tech culture. As a people, we’re becoming increasingly obsessed with our own species – to the exclusion of everything around us.
To be sure, we pay lip-service to the importance of the natural world – and the trouble we’ve brought upon ourselves by paying insufficient attention to the ways in which we humans are changing that world.
Moreover, on a purely intellectual level, most educated Americans understand that we are products of the natural world – primates who share nearly all of our DNA with other primates, and a surprising amount with other animals (and even plants).
Yet, in seeking remedies for a troubled spirit, we turn instinctively to purely human resources. Whether we turn inward or outward, we believe our solutions are to be found in humans – or in some projection of the human which we think of as divine.
Now, to be sure, I hadn’t thought of all this when I posted my answer to my friend’s question.
But my response certainly took a distinctly different tack than the rest.
First, I said, I don’t worry much about feeling grumpy. At my age, I claim my occasional curmudgeonly moods as a badge of honor.
But I went on to reference two months during the summer of 2011 when I don’t remember having felt grumpy at all.
During those months – May and August – I stayed with a friend at her apartment on the Oregon coast. This was a time of recovery for me. I’d just ended a long stretch of taking care of my aging mother.
No one who’s never been a round-the-clock caregiver can fully understand how wearing and heart-breaking that can be.
Having passed on this burden, I sought sanctuary at my friend’s lovely apartment in Cannon Beach. I had her good company, my own room and access to a well-equipped kitchen. I was a three-block stroll from the best coffee shop I’ve found anywhere.
But none of those factors accounted fully for my lightness of heart.
I believe the key was the hummingbirds.
Early in May, my friend and I had hung two hummingbird feeders on the deck of her apartment. Quite soon, both feeders started attracting visitors.
Throughout my stay – any time I went out on the deck with a cup of coffee or a good book – I’d no sooner settle down than I’d hear the soft, urgent buzzing which signalled the arrival of a hummer.
If I moved my head slowly, so as not to alarm our guest, I could watch something almost miraculous, just a few feet away.
I must say this: It’s darn near impossible to be grumpy – or at least, to stay grumpy – while watching a hummingbird feed.
Hummingbirds are among evolution’s greatest wonders. Most hummers are no bigger than a man’s thumb, weighing a fraction of an ounce. But they’re cat-quick, highly intelligent, and possibly the hardest-working non-insects on the planet.
For example, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – which is due to make its appearance in Virginia in early April – spends its winters in Mexico. When it heads north, the Ruby doesn’t take the easy way, making short hops along the Gulf coast.
It flies across the Gulf of Mexico – which is notoriously lacking in islands – in a single flight of nearly 500 miles.
Scientists estimate that a Ruby will feed enough to double its normal weight before this flight – and burn off all that extra weight in the time it takes to reach the US.
If I could make one recommendation to every soul who suffers from the blues – or even clinical depression – it would be to purchase a quality feeder, hang it where you can watch it in comfort, mix up a batch of sugar-water, and await the arrival of the Rubies.
They won’t be long.
As of March 25, hummingbird fans had posted sightings as far north as North Carolina’s Research Triangle and near the Outer Banks.
Take my advice: Put up a feeder, sit back, and enjoy the cheerful sight of one of Nature’s miracles.
The hummers will do the rest.