The impossibility of the hummingbird

I love hummingbirds.

Impossibly small and yet so completely resilient and strong. The first time I caught a glimpse of one flying about and feeding I was mesmerized and enraptured. That child-like delight has never left me upon seeing one of these tiny creatures. My heart always skips a beat when I stumble across a hummingbird seemingly floating in air on its silent and speedy little wings.

Each time we visit Cuba, the best days feature a hummingbird sighting. Spending sufficient time in one spot, we come to know their schedules. One of our best days ever we walked out the front door to find three flitting about and feeding upon the same bush.

This past trip, our hosts’ yard featured multiple hummingbirds, although I was hard-pressed to distinguish between the individual beauties. Witnessing a hummingbird fight for the first time left me utterly speechless and rather more in awe of these fierce, tiny little warriors.

Pancho, as our hosts named him, visited the same flowers each afternoon around 15.00. One day, I was fortunate to have caught these images. As I sat near this particular bush and tried to not move despite my excitement, I heard the whirring of air and wings colliding. Perhaps even more than seeing a hummingbird, being near enough to hear one’s wings was somehow perfect. But, watching one sit idly on a nearby branch in between feeds was even more impressive. I somehow never imaged a hummingbird sitting still.

My patience was rewarded that afternoon. I give you Pancho, the Cuban Emerald.

Pancho - in flight (2)Pancho feeding

Springing forward

As the world springs back to visible life in Helsinki each year, tiny seemingly imperceptible changes create what one friend referred to as a ‘green haze’. It’s incredible. And, such a contrast from the sepia monotones of winter.

Each evening as we stroll through our neighbourhood for our daily peripatetic spousal bonding sessions, we can’t help but notice the tiny explosions of life that seem to change immensely from one day to the next rather than from week to week.

Yesterday, we ventured down (and up) a path we’ve never explored before. The views from the top were truly stunning, particularly given the calm water below and the blue, blue skies above. And, everywhere that green haze of new leaves and grass and even moss and lichen.

Closer to ground, the buds of new leaves and fleeting fresh flowers provide close-up signs of that change from one season to another.

Regardless of the particular lens — macro or wide and expansive — these signs move us forward from the slumber of winter to the rejuvenation and rebirth of spring.

Waiting….

Today, it’s all about waiting.

Waiting to start the 2017 addition of the Helsinki Midnight Run. (My start time is 21.25, Helsinki time.)

Waiting to hear how prepared and where are family and friends in Florida are hunkered down and hopefully safe from Irma’s approach. (Last forecast has her hitting the Florida Keys early Sunday morning local time, Sunday afternoon our time.)

And, waiting to learn the fate of those who are currently riding out Irma’s wrath across Cuba.

I hate waiting. For anything. But, waiting on all of this on the same day has me unbelievably restless and anxious and fidgety. And, the weather here appears to reflect my mood rather well — rainy, windy and generally miserable and unsettled.

There’s absolutely nothing we can do from here for those in Florida and Cuba currently either experiencing what I image to be hollowing winds and lashing rain, deafening and terrifying at once. I can’t help but worry about those we’ve met who live far too close to the water’s edge. I can’t help but think of the waves currently crashing over the Malecón, which will likely grow and intensify as Irma follows Cuba’s coast. And, I hope against hope that not too much is washed away.

And, I can’t help but wonder what will remain tomorrow and the day after.

And, then comes Florida, likely to take on the full force or Irma’s terror.

As I sit or pace or try to work and take my mind off Irma’, the faces of those I love flash before my eyes, whether in Cuba or Florida.

And the word that comes to mind is simply, ‘¡cuidate!’

Be safe.

 

The greenness of spring

It seems like we wait all year for spring to arrive in Helsinki. This year in particular — a mere two weeks ago we endured days of snow flurries and living in a giant snow globe when our feet should have been enjoying the freedom of sandals. But, whenever that shift from winter to new growth arrives, there’s an unnatural greenness to the landscape which never ceases to surprise, delight and amaze me. Each and every year.

I don’t know if it is simply the newness to the green leaves or the sudden explosion of them everywhere. Leaves seem to grow overnight, transforming from tiny buds to giant leaves so, so quickly. But, this green. This green against the darker trunks of some of the indigenous trees becomes fluorescent. Add in the budding green shoots of the grass, the insanely loud cacophony of the birds screaming for their mates and the lengthening days and shadows of those long summer evenings, and you can’t help but smile and feel alive.

Winter—the long, dark, greyness of winter—often seems never-ending and at times unbearable. So when spring comes, perhaps my mind simply doesn’t recognise the loveliness that is this new growth, leaving me confused and processing that colour as something almost other worldly.

Whatever it is about spring and this green we experience in the far North, I welcome it. It is truly glorious and I’ll soak it in for as long as it lasts. After my class this morning, I was standing at a bus stop marvelling at the dark blue, stormy sky of summer as the backdrop to those bright green leaves of new growth. Those are the moments we carry with us as we suffer through the darkness. Simultaneously, those are the images we forget on the darkest days as a way of perhaps protecting ourselves from the darkness. And, those are the images we delight in each spring.

It takes a specific mindset to survive in this environment and not lose all hope of the sun returning to it’s brilliant glory. And, looking at trees in winter, it’s hard to imagine them ever living again. Perhaps this is what makes summer so incredibly glorious and wonderful.

Whatever makes the leaves this green, I’ll take it.

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Yes, one person can make a difference

Several years ago in a discussion with a colleague after a typical day in the office, a brief snippet of our conversation has stayed with me and inspired much reflection. Discussing the many issues in the world around us which we’d like to see change, a world more socially and economically just and fair, I declared my own desire to make the world around me just a bit better. Whether that difference be at a community or national level wasn’t important; making a difference to the lived experiences of others was what drove me, even if it was on a seemingly small scale.

His response? ‘If you help just one person, you have succeeded, no? You have after all changed the world for the better for at least one person.’

So, so simple. And, so, so true.

Both before and since that after-work conversation and revelation, I’ve thought often about what one person can do to make the world a little better. A little brighter. I’m perhaps in equal measure hopelessly naïve and optimistic enough to believe that one person can and often does make a difference. But, it wasn’t until that conversation several years ago that I stopped worrying about how many people or how large the impact was (something which my day job placed priority on — the number of people reached rather than how much better life was for one person). Yet, one person’s world is still ‘a world’. And, perhaps by helping that one person, others’ lots would improvd as well.

However seemingly insignificant the gesture may be, a single act of kindness, a random bit of support extended to another can create good. From holding a door open to buying a meal for someone who is hungry to clothing a stranger to standing up and speaking for those who have no voice, no act is too small. No act is too insignificant. And, perhaps, those changes and improvements to an individual’s ife can mushroom out as ripples on the water—one person can help another can help another and so on until an entire community benefits.

Like I said, hopelessly optimistic. (It beats the alternative!)

But, what of the more significant, larger acts? Do they take a village or can they be accomplished through the actions of an individual on his/her own?

A single person has made an enormous difference with an amazing impact, as evidenced by Jadav Payeng.

Since 1979, this one man has been planting saplings and growing a forest in Brahmaputra, India. Growing a forest. These saplings have transformed a barren, eroding landscape into a lush, green habitat for various creatures, including elephants, tigers and vultures, which returned to the region in 2012 after a 40-year absence.

Talk about seeing the forest for the trees…

If a single man can create a forest, imagine the possibilities of the seemingly small and insignificant actions we each want to do and don’t for fear it will change nothing. Just as each seed may not on it’s own create a forest, each individual action may on its own seem unimportant and carry very little benefit. Yet, over time and collectively, imagine how much better the world could be? Imagine how much better it would be?

Sometimes, it’s quite alright to focus on that individual tree.

 

Day 55: Proekt 365 (Blackbird singing…)

There is something so comforting and uplifting about the first songs of the various birds as they return to our neighbourhood each spring. Some of these birds return much earlier than we ever expect. Some disappear far too soon with summer solstice. But, from the Annoying Bird of Spring to the plentiful blackbirds and nightingales, we’ll take them all. And, most of all, we’ll delight in their songs.

Yesterday evening as The Cuban and I enjoyed the lengthening day which also marks the beginning of the end of winter and the imminent arrival of spring, we were delighted to hear the blackbird’s song and its return to our hood.

For whatever reason, both of us love the blackbird above all others. Its song is so joyful, almost playful. Even the worst days are made somehow better when the blackbird sings from high atop the trees across the street from our flat. Maybe it’s that its song rings loudest at the end of the day just before darkness descends, somehow serving as a beacon to guide us home. In the woods near our flat, the blackbird’s song is the loveliest of all. Its resonance and pitch almost light up the woods even as the sun fades below the horizon.

Maybe we simply love the blackbird’s song because we both love the Beatles.

Day 31: Proekt 365 (The magic of snow)

Day 31: Proekt 365 The magical wonder that is snow

Day 31: Proekt 365
The magical wonder that is snow

All day, I’ve lived in this bubble of excitement. You could probably run a small appliance on the energy coursing through my veins today. All because of snow.

Earlier in the week, we had forecasts of snow for this weekend, which had a predicted arrival of late Friday / early Saturday. It was like waiting for Christmas in many ways. And, to be honest, I squealed with sheer delight when I looked out the window earlier today and saw what looked like the inside of a gigantic snow globe.  The thrill of a possible ‘snow day’ was relived, although ‘snow day’ has absolutely zero relevance in my life today, other than being a day during which snow has fallen. But, I love it all the same.

I honestly don’t know what it is specifically about snow that I love so much. As I was out this evening, the biting chill of ice shards hitting my face were not so lovely. But, watching the snow swirl in the street lights and that which had fallen blow and drift on the sidewalks, it all provided a bit of beauty and life oddly enough to an otherwise lifeless landscape. Everything seems so lifeless in winter, particularly this far north. Yet, snow always seems to provide this sense of something else—a metamorphosis of sorts into a new beginning, a purification of all that was, a chance to reset and recalibrate. The world seems utterly transformed and somehow different after a significant snowfall. Each season has its purpose; to me, winter and specifically snow is all about that transition from what was to what can be. Perhaps that is why I love snow so much.

Never has a bus ride home, particularly on the night bus, passed so quickly. It may have been the combination of Radiohead and snow (as well as a few glasses of red wine and the residual high from an evening of great company amongst good friends), but it was fabulous. Perhaps the loveliest of all things this evening was walking on freshly fallen, completely-undisturbed-by-anyone-else snow. The sound and the silence at once enchant me.

As Helsinki braces itself for a massive amount of snow, I know I should hope for less of it. But, honestly and for purely selfish reasons, I am screaming ‘let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’ as loud as humanly possible.