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Will someone please explain the true meaning behind the phrase “good grief”? And please, don’t emphasize the fact that Charlie Brown mutters it on a regular basis as justification for its meaning. If ever an oxymoron existed, it would be in the use of these two words together. This is especially true if used to describe today’s happenings in Hummingbird-ville. Yes, my friends, there was indeed a tragedy…a turn of events witnessed on camera that I can only describe as haunting and inconclusive. A brutal display of Mother Nature’s powerful use of natural selection, or so I’d like to assume.

Let me back up a day to the first photo of the hummingbabies, shown here on their last day together in the nest. Within seconds of taking this photo, the bird on the left (we’ll call him “Lefty”) flew the coop, making a successful takeoff through the dense canopy that had for three weeks supported the conglomeration of lichen and spider webs he called “home.” The bird on the right (we’ll call her “Righty”) suddenly had more acreage (OK, square millimeters) than she’d had since she was born. It’s at this point in the story where I desperately struggle NOT to anthropomorphize these tiny animals by assuming the remaining twin is secretly longing for her other half. But I could just swear that upon separation from her brother, a light went out in her eyes.

Bringing the story back up to today, I awake to find Righty perched on the side of her extra-large condominium, intermittently flapping her wings and hesitantly looking around. I could sense an air of trepidation filling the voids within her immediate atmosphere. I assumed it must be the fear of taking her first flight, but again, I may be erroneously attributing human-like qualities and thoughts to my winged friend. I shrugged the whole situation off, especially seeing that Righty was still in the ever-present loving care of her mother, who dipped down regularly to inject some regurgitated grub down Righty’s ever-receptive throat. Knowing that Righty might be compelled to leave the nest at any moment, I grudgingly lamented the fact that I had a meeting to attend for the better half of the day. As a precaution, I decided to play the odds and set up an un-manned video camera, hoping that the highly anticipated flight would take place before the digital tape ran out. 

At the end of my meeting I hustled out the door, leaving my fellow meeting participants to wonder if my bladder was suddenly collapsing after a four-hour deluge of caffeinated beverages. I then risked confrontation with the California Highway Patrol (nowhere near as civil as the television-portrayed CHIPS) to gain valuable needed time in my hummingbird watch. Arriving safely at home, I blew past the ever-loyal dog who looked very irritated from the apparent snub (but again I anthropo-whatever), and out the back door to the garden. My heart skipped a beat when I witnessed, for the first time in three weeks, a completely empty nest. Hands trembling with excitement at the possible capture of Righty’s first flight on video, I groped for the camera and held my breath as I rewound the footage just a brief second. Yep, the camera had indeed captured the empty nest, suggesting I need only rewind the footage a little more to see the actual takeoff. And sure enough, after rewinding for a minute or so, I was privy to the last moment of Righty’s nest inhabitance. Unfortunately, I was also privy to something else, something completely unexpected, and something that makes me wish I could turn back the hands of time (and not just because I’d like to avoid Botox treatment.) 

The footage I witnessed was that of Righty catapulting hesitantly in the air, just out of range of the camera shot. She then tumbled almost immediately back into frame, and then downward toward the ground, while the sound of her wings frantically flapping overwhelmed the camera microphone. For about two seconds after Righty had again fallen back out of frame, I heard the cacophony of her wings, and then suddenly nothing. I smiled, delighted that the hummingbaby had found her “smooth and quiet” gear and was now sailing happily (again, that damn “a” word) off to her future life. I was just about to pull away from the video image, when I spied the dark shadow of something creeping across the top of the garden wall, a good fifteen feet beyond the nest. I rewound the tape again, and to my utter despair and confusion, I realized that the shadow was that of a Russian Blue that had been scaling my wall for a good month or so. I could actually see his green glowing eyes through the branches of the tree when I hit “pause,” however, I could not detect if his mouth was laden with baby bird. I could only surmise what I feared to be the truth: Righty had been abducted and brutally murdered by a fierce predator, Felis silvestris catus, or the common house cat. 

I was at once sickened and flooded with grief, and let me tell you, there was nothing “good” about this, Charlie Brown…you pesky, balding, zigzagged shirt-wearing, bastard. After filling up the bird bath with tears, I composed myself enough to check for the “remains of the day.” Noting nothing out-of-the-ordinary in the vicinity of the nest, I snuck into my neighbor’s yard and closely surveyed the other side of the wall. To my horror, I found a tiny mass of grey and white feathers, and then another, and then another. I also found many other kinds of feathers of varying size and color scattered throughout my neighbor’s yard. It was like a non-denominational bird cemetary over there. Finding myself completely starved for oxygen, I ran back to my house, choking back yet another set of tears. I became convinced that not even Lefty could have escaped this carnage. I wept even more, while in my mind, I hastily threw out the idea of the pending hummingbird documentary. After all, who would want to see a nature flick where two innocent little animals are lovingly raised by their doting mother only to be destined for the Blue Russian dinner bowl? Then a light bulb went off and my question was answered: Nearly everyone in this violence-addicted country.  

So, much to my chagrin, I sulked back over to the “Yard of Death” with video camera in-hand, preparing to document the bird parts. At this moment, I need to tell you that I was not at all trying to capitalize on the death of Righty, and possibly even Lefty. I was just feeling the need to tell a story where Mother Nature had clearly asserted her might. I wasn’t even sure how I would go about editing the footage, let alone reviewing it again, without suffering a major flood of grief and despair. However, I’m one of those, “just in case” kind of people, so I turned on the camera and started filming. What followed next was what I think Charlie Brown may have had in mind. 

I found myself suddently agitated by the return of the mother hummingbird, squaking her familiar warning call to her babies. “Good grief,” I complained, “Isn’t it a little late for that now?” As irritated as I was with Mrs. Hummingbird, I decided to turn the camera on her anyway, not sure of what I would find. She had landed on the tree in my yard and did not appear to be up to much, so I turned the lens away just as she again took flight.  While moving the camera, I caught a blur of grey and white on the tree limb where the mother had just been. One double take and I realized that the blur on the tree was a little puffball of hummingbaby feathers and that the puffball was indeed moving and flapping its wings. Tears of joy came to my eyes as I fixated the camera lens on either Lefty or Righty. The floodgates again opened when Mrs. Hummingbird returned for a feeding, and I began to seriously worry that I might experience an electrical shock if I did not calm myself down. 

So there I was, in the middle of my neighbor’s yard, wading in a puddle of tears, all the while considering a new meaning for the phrase “good grief.” Although I cannot say for certain what happened today, and whether Righty survived her first flight, I did indeed experience a day that was mixed with both intense grief and profound goodness. An oxymoron?  Maybe. But a rather balanced dichotomy that no moron, even Charlie Brown, would fail to recognize.