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INTIMATIONS OF MORTALITY
August 29, 2006
 
She's right here, Q said quietly. In the window box.

We were sitting at the breakfast table, which is next to a window so we can watch birds. I looked where he was looking: Ethel Merman was sampling the nectar in a purple petunia about a foot away. It was the closest we've ever been to her: we could see her eyes. She hovered there for a long time.

Ethel, did you know your picture was in the paper?

Ethel made no reply. Her beak was buried too deep in the throat of the flower to allow her to speak. In a moment, she emerged and flew off.

Her picture really did make the local newspaper. Covering the garden tour, the photographer was fascinated by Ethel, and lay in wait for her to drink from a feeder so he could catch it. So there she was in The Sentinel, caught hovering at her favorite glass globe feeder, drinking deeply.

We turned our attention to the other feeders, which were teeming with avian life. Finches and sparrows ate sunflower hearts on the tray feeder, with the occasional visit from either Mr.or Mrs. Cardinal,who never eat at the same time in the same place. This is for security reasons.

The woodpecker hung upside down from the tray and popped his head over the edge from time to time to grab a seed. The blue jay dove in, grabbed a sunflower heart and soared into a tree to eat it. Further away, two goldfinches clung sideways to the thistle sock, intently pulling black thistle seeds out of the holes.

Did they get my good side? Ethel was at her tube feeder, trying to decide which tube to drink from first.

Ethel doesn't really have a bad side, as far as I am concerned. You looked fine to me, I said. Don't you want to see it?

I never read the papers,
she said.

Oh.

Check the pie plate feeder out back. It's getting a little low.

Oh, sorry, Ethel. You've sure been eating a lot lately.

Gettin' ready for my trip.

I figured as much. When do you leave?

Oh,I dunno. Soon.

Do you ever think of just staying? I read a book about a hummingbird on Long Island who stayed there all winter. She stayed in somebody's house.

What a moron.

You could stay here -- you could have the guest room.

Nah. Got things to do and people to see. Down south.

Well, if you change your mind....

See, we don't wanna be in people's houses. We wanna be outside. We were out in the middle of the hurricane last year, swingin' on the feeders like a tilt-a-whirl. It was pretty crazy.

Weren't you scared?

Nah. When your number's up, your number's up, you know? That's the way we look at it.

Yeah, I guess you're right,
I said. Say, how long do hummingbirds live,anyway?

Beats me. We just live until we die. How about you?

That's pretty much what we do, too, I guess.

Well,I would like nothing more than to chit chat with you the whole damn day, but all this talk of death is makin' me hungry. See ya later.


And she was gone.
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