Awaiting a Hummingbird

So here I sit on my little old and weathered wooden deck awaiting a hummingbird. My main effort in today’s 96 degree heat was to replace two of the feeders that aged to leak extensively, to a point where I became concerned about the price of sugar.

My Sauvignon Blanc is chilled which helps with the heat. So far, and perhaps due to the drought provided by the previous distributors of sugar water, no hummingbird has happened by. A pair of oriels flew past, noted my presence in the Adirondack chair, and alit in branches of the nearby tree to express their displeasure. I use the phrase reluctantly because at any other time I would call their peepy chants a protest. Protest is a word to be used selectively in such times.

My time now on the deck, despite the horrid heat, is necessary for in a few weeks the neighbor’s corn will reach such a height that my horizon will disappear until harvest. This happens with 12 ft. high corn, which clues tell me is of the GMO family. A few days ago the son, who I suppose is now the farmer of record, covered the rows with a spray which I assume is Roundup. I worked long enough in the agricultural public relations field to realize that the chemical is within the contact classification, that his corn will pass it through their cells and reach for the heavenly skies. My main issue with GMO crops is the Bt insecticide chemicals “bred” into the cell structure. Which, bottom line, is lethal to bees and other beneficial insects as well as the nasty ones.

5.3.2020 sunset5a

Making photographs before or after the sun appears offers some nice color surprises.

His crops contrast my prairie and the native plants here in my gardens. It is what it is. Long story short, without my work as a freelancer and later in the advertising industry I couldn’t have afforded to buy this patch of earth that now hosts an eight acre native prairie. My joy is being a thorn in the side of what is considered “modern industrialized agriculture.” My Art of Erosion exhibit was one such thorn, a sort of penance for the ills of my career.

In the distance come the “barks” of pheasants, and around me songbirds are vocally active. My small Listening Stone Farm has been somewhat of a refuge these past few months as we now enter our fourth month of coronavirus. As restrictions are being lifted, our North Woods-looking “lodge” restaurant down the road has opened the patio along Big Stone Lake. We have tried to spread our takeout buys over the course of the lock down. About once a week we buy from one of the restaurants we would normally visit. Hopefully all can survive and resume their fare.

5.17.2020 home18

These Prairie Smoke were in silhouette on the Lake Johanna Esker. Thanks to digital technology I was able to pull the color out of the shadows.

All is not well, though, due to the blatant murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop last week. Cities and smaller communities around the globe are in protest, and in some situations, violent ones while our un-presidential president fans the flames of discord and bigotry. Perhaps waiting for a hummingbird in such times seems so childish, yet I wonder what good would an old white man be on the streets. Years ago, in the mid-1970s, a black roommate took me on a drive one warm Sunday afternoon to give me my first lessons on white privilege. We were headed into downtown Denver when he pulled into a convenience store. “Let’s get something to drink,” he said.

When we entered the store the clerk addressed John, my roommate, asking if he needed any help. I walked on by without giving it a thought or question, pulled a cold Diet Coke from the cooler and went to pay. John had a helper following him around the store, being “helpful,” and later back in his pickup he asked, “So, did you notice any difference in how we were treated?”

“You got service and I didn’t,” I said.

“No. I got attention and you didn’t. Let’s try a couple of more places.” Same thing. As we neared City Park we passed a young black man running on the sidewalk. “See him?” John asked as he pulled over. “Now, did you look in front to see where he was going, or behind him to see if he was being chased?”

A starling flew close enough to almost feel the breeze from his wings en route to the light colored driveway to drop a poop sac from its nest. They’re like soft-shelled little white eggs but aren’t. A few years ago starlings raised such ire with some owners of suburban swimming pools that letters were arriving at the big dailies asking what course of action should they take. My guess is that such questions about bird behavior are easier to write than on how one can be more compassionate to a neighbor of color. Maybe I missed those letters. Perhaps it’s just easier to phone 9-1-1 to report a possible assault.

5.26.2020 sunset10

After pulling the color from darkness with the Prairie Smoke, I tried the same with a Columbine here on the farm. It seems there is a “Valentine” heart as a backdrop.

Like during the pandemic lock down, some of this time during the protests has been used to go afield. The other morning before dawn I was photographing an emerging Prairie Smoke. Later while processing from RAW to a usable image, I lightened the flower just enough to expose the seemingly latent color. Rather than a silhouette I then had an image that was almost magical … appearing as a rediscovered Impressionistic painting perhaps. That night I tried using the same technique in the fading sunset, pairing up a Columbine image with the one of Prairie Smoke. A few evenings ago I tried the same technique with White Prairie Ladyslippers. This is what we do. In troubled times we create. Perhaps bringing the color out of the darkness was a subconscious move. It wasn’t a conscious effort for George Lloyd or any of my friends of color.

Besides, what is an old white man going to do on the streets of Minneapolis? Eight hours of highway time, round trip? What effective means can I add to the protest? This is everyone’s “battle” … learning to not just accept our neighbors of color, but to also adjust to a necessary equalization. One of where an old Native man, or an elderly Black man, can sip a chilled beverage on a faded, worn wooden deck awaiting the feverish flight of a hummingbird without worry. Without concern for his children, or his children’s children; that they can have equal opportunity for good jobs and a life free of worry and confrontations of “white privilege” or any form of police brutality or lynching. It’s 400 years too late in coming, but maybe like a hummingbird, it may come.

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A prairie meadow in dusk across the road from the patch of White Ladyslippers.

It’s a nice day out. Hot, even for this time of year. A news story hidden among the protest stories told of how global warming has extended Minnesota summers by at least a week. That’s on top of higher heat indexes, and if we pay close attention we can observe even more subtle changes in nature. Climate change is now a younger person’s battle. My generation … we “hippies” or members of the “counter culture” …  tried creating and leaving a better world for our children and grandchildren, yet many of those victories in our time have been reversed by greed and corporate favors. We can only hope those moving into their decision making years will have solutions and more success in saving both our humanity and our planet, in creating a worldly environment of peace and equality for all regardless of race, gender, age or religion.

So it comes down to this; this old man sitting on the deck along a restored prairie with a sparkling new plastic sugar-water feeder waiting for the arrival of a hummingbird, and realizing how joy may sometimes be found in something so minuscule and fleeting.

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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