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I break for hummingbirds
On nature
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Every fall, mostly without our knowing it, ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate across the south, heading to the Florida coast and across the Gulf to over-winter. They make a wave of living jewels, pausing at the last trumpet flowers and honeysuckle.
One year at a hummingbird festival, I watched a biologist clip a little silver band on the leg of a hummingbird. My friend Ann stood mesmerized in front of the table for so long that after the calibrating, inspecting and recording were finished, she got to release the bird. She held it in her flat palm like a child, feeling the dewdrop of a heartbeat.
Then the bird rose, shook out its miniature blue-green cloak of wings and vanished.
Later we sat at a bird window and watched a hymn of hummingbirds clamoring over the feeders and the salvia — males with their red throats, green females so iridescent and luminous my throat tightened.
Every year, despite what we do to the landscape, despite the diminishment of what they depend upon, the hummingbirds keep coming.
In spring they fly north where they build delicate tea-cup homes out of moss and lichens and there, following elaborate mating rituals, they lay eggs hardly bigger than jelly beans. They raise impossibly tiny offspring.
In the late fall, they fly south over strip developments and eight-lane highways, over herbicide-laden cotton fields and kudzu-wrapped gullies, over sprawl, over clear-cut forests.
Above our heads they pass unnoticed.
For Christmas one year, our son gave me a matchbox of feathers so small and airy that I have to hold my breath when I look at them. A ruby-throated hummingbird had hit his bedroom window and died, and before burying it, he collected some of its feathers.
We all have to be aware that as consumers, as seekers of prosperity, we are not only guilty of the destruction of our world, we are charged with the task of remaking it. We must educate ourselves about the consequences of our daily lives.
Hundreds of times every day, we make decisions that either add to global warming, extinction and pollution, or prolong and strengthen life on Earth. These decisions can be as small as turning out a light, or as big as deciding not to have another child, or not to build a new house on an undeveloped piece of land. Every day we have the chance to act courageously and ethically.
We are very powerful then.
The hummingbirds are in our hands.

Georgia author Ray’s essay, “Beyond Capitalism,” appeared in Where We Stand: Voices of Southern Dissent.
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