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

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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Day 27: Proekt 365 (The frozen familiar)

Day 27: Proekt 365 A familiar spot frozen over

Day 27: Proekt 365
A familiar spot frozen over

The contrast between the seasons in Helsinki is mind boggling. At this time of year, we normally have quite a bit of snow and everything is covered in a sparkling layer of white. This year, we have the sub-zero temps finally and most things are frozen over, but there is precious little snow. No matter—there is still much loveliness to be found.

Rather than giving in to the temptation to stay in and hibernate the winter months away, we try to get out and about during the brightest bit of the day (or at least before the sun sets each day). Today, we were a bit late in getting out due to other commitments. A standard part of our walks has us passing over the above bridge. In the pools on either side of this bridge, a family of ducks can normally be seen scavenging for the bits of bread crusts and seeds our neighbours take to them or paddling about in the waters still unfrozen and quacking away the days.

It’s shocking to see this nearly frozen solid. But, frozen it is. And, lovely as ever it is.

The family of ducks must have wandered to another spot less frozen over. All that remained of them today were their footprints in the snow covering the ice. Small bits of water still show and the water is flowing under all of that ice. Alas, no ducks.

But, it’s a different world in this normally tranquil paddling pool, much as the world around us looks so different at this time of year to what it will look like six months from now. Rather than a familiar world frozen and darkened by the burden of frost, snow and ice, everything will be alive with green and colour and the varied songs of the many birds who call our neighbourhood home. And, also familiar.

Still tranquil, but not quite so quiet. Yet, always lovely.

Homage to the Annoying Bird of Spring

The first signs of spring in the far North are not green shoots peeping through on their way to becoming tulips or daffodils. Nor are they the green buds of new leaves popping out on the long-barren trees. Nope. We await the first calls of what we have come to know as the ‘annoying* bird of spring’.

When we lived in Moscow, some time in late February as the days grew noticeably longer and the sun finally peeped through the clouds after months of darkness and persistent snowfall, we would hear the call outside our flat. Our first reaction was invariably, ‘Was it…? Could it be’?! Then, we’d hear it loud and clear and know that all would once again be right in the world and the snow would eventually stop falling. The call was annoying in its repetition. And, annoying because we had no idea what the bloody bird looked like. Try as we might to find the annoying bird of spring upon hearing its signal of hope, we failed.

When we moved to Helsinki and landed our lovely flat in a wooded area with plenty of birds about, we were delighted to discover the call of the annoying bird of spring once again after one of the hardest winters we’d ever endured. It wasn’t so much that winter was colder than Moscow or that there was more snow; it is simply infinitely darker than anything we’d ever thought possible. The sound of our old friend delighted us no end, and told us we had survived. Spring was on its way finally and the darkness would give way to sunshine, green leaves and the long days of summer.

Yet, we still were unable to see the owner of that annoying, yet welcomed call year after year. ‘We hear you’, we would cry to our friend. ‘But, what do you look like?!’

My darling husband in particular has been obsessed with discovering the identity of that great signaler of spring. As his obsession was reaching epic proportions, I heard the most delighted shout, ‘I found it! The annoying bird of spring! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’

Thanks to the a series by the BBC, Lolo’s Secret Life of Birds, and after close to five years, we’ve finally discovered the identity of our fowl, feathered friend.

We give you, the great tit.

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The incredible irony is that on any given day, many of these lovely little creatures can be found perched on our very own balcony greedily claiming their treats from our bird feeder. A few days ago, I looked out and there were no less than seven of the cheeky little buggers sat along the railing!

All this time, what we assumed were finches were in actuality our beloved annoying birds of spring! To us, the great tit will always be the annoying bird of spring. And, its song will always bring a smile to our faces. But, its nice to know its true identity.

*NB: We don’t actually think this bird is annoying in any way. In fact, we love this bird and its song in particular.