A Colony of Hummingbirds by Ingram Crockett


'A COLONY OF HUMMING-BIRDS
I remember it was one of the most perfect of mornings. We had come to the mouth of the river, the day before, and had pitched our tent near a spring at the edge of the wood, and it was while I stood in the tent door that the dawn unfolded before me in exquisite color—faint rose, pale gold, luminous pink —while out of its silent depths came thousands of blackbirds singing fieldward, charming the air with their tinkling chorus.
With the rising of the sun I walked toward the abrupt hills where dwelt my friends, the warblers. Great masses of the cardinal flower glowed in the slashes; white wood lilies glimmered from the leafy dusks of young hickory and pawpaw; and the notes of the wood thrush fell like dewdrops of melody from the tall sweetgums.
Having reached the hills, I found a delightful grove of locusts, where the bluegrass grew thick and long, where there was no underbrush. A little spot shut in to the sky by walls of bramble, spreading a soft screen of sage-green locust boughs against the blue; hung with wild morning-glories, pink, purple and white.
Presently there was a faint whirr. I sat, with my back to a tree, and watched. Yes, there he was, before a crimped and wide-flared morning-glory, now dipping into its dewy bell, now hanging on almost invisible wings, like a splendid jewel before it.
'Twas a ruby-throat in beautiful feather. Soon he was joined by another, and another, until there were at least a dozen of them, with the mellow hum of a swarm of bees.
I kept in mind what the books say—that the rubythroat is the only humming-bird found east of the Mississippi—but I found myself constantly on the alert for a rare visitant—the scene was so tropical. Clumps of sumac and coffee-bean, with shadowy layers of compound leaves—tangles of wild grape— festoons of wild sweet potato—knots of dodder, the "love vine" of the country—why should not some dazzling hummer from South America or Mexico have found its way to this lovely banqueting hall of the ruby-throats?
And yet, for that matter, how did it happen that these winged jewels came to Kentucky, while all the rest of their kind stayed in the far west and south— who knows?
I was on the alert, too, for duels, remembering the fighting qualities of these sons of beauty. But to their credit they seemed to be in a capital good humor, and thoroughly to enjoy the nectar they sipped.
Now and again one would dart into a locust and perch there, looking like a good-sized bumblebee, but putting on a great many more airs—shaking his wings, preening his brilliant feathers, and jauntily turning his head from side to side.
At times I could have touched them with my hand, so fearless were they while I kept perfectly still. Perhaps they took me for a lichened stump, and I waited for some venturesome fellow to alight on me and investigate, but though they came very close, they could not bring themselves to that length. They fanned my cheek with their wings, but a nearer acquaintance—no.
While I watched their swift coming and going— the glinting of metallic red and orange on their throats—several jays came flying in with noisy chatter. The hummers instantly scattered, as if a bomb had been thrown among them, but soon returning, they paid no more attention to the intruders—flashing over and under them—weaving about them a net of color.
It was an unusually beautiful picture. The sagegreen of the locusts, the emerald-green of the briers, the dark green of the leaves of the morning-glories, the cerulean-blue, shell-pink, and white of their blossoms; the glow of the ruby-throats, the cool blueand-white of the jays—happy the painter who could have breathed it into his pigments, and embalmed it in his art!
I sat until my back ached, under the spell of those sharp eyes—those penetrating little points of light —but I had my reward. I met the elusive face to face. I saw the daintiness of those feathers that seemed to emit light—the rapier-like keenness of that bill, that can effectually rob a flower, or stab a rival—the folding of those wings so weak looking, and yet so wonderful in their muscular force.
I stayed until the morning-glories closed and the revelers were gone. I shut my eyes. Had I been dreaming, or had those tireless wings transported me to Yucatan to dazzle me with the magic of that home whence they came? No, I had only gone a few miles beyond my own doorstep. Truly, if we would only open our eyes to see, what long, tiresome trips we might save ourselves in search of Beauty!