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Hummingbirds in Winter

“For unless one is able to live fully in the present, the future is a hoax. There is no point whatever in making plans for a future which you will never be able to enjoy. When your plans mature, you will still be living for some other future beyond. You will never, never be able to sit back with full contentment and say, “Now, I’ve arrived!” Your entire education has deprived you of this capacity because it was preparing you for the future, instead of showing you how to be alive now.” – Alan Watts

I was thinking about flowers. Specifically, Bee Balm (Monarda). The blooms of next summer are currently scheming in the frozen turf of the garden, awaiting the heat of late June and July to burst onto the scene. In that respect, I share more in common with the flower than the hummingbird, which ignores border restrictions altogether and zips down to Mexico and Central America for the winter. You think that snowbird expression invented itself? The hummingbird is one of many birds that bolts the limited prospects of survival in the north for the tropics.

Still, I don’t mind winter, when we have it. This year is a confusion of rain and frigid temperatures, but no significant snow to speak of just yet. But that’s the world we live in now, with seasons shifted slightly askew, and some uninformed loud people thinking climate change is a hoax, like COVID and election results and any science that doesn’t jibe with their worldview.

I imagine the hummingbirds I got to know last summer are doing the Macarina with friends from around North America in some tropical paradise right about now. And why shouldn’t they? They flew 3000 miles and straight across the Gulf of Mexico to arrive in the tropics. So go on: guzzle that nectar and dance to your heart’s content!

Back here in the frozen north, we wonder when the snow might return again, and then the flowers, and finally the hummingbirds. But, as Watts points out, we can’t live in the future, we can only embrace what we have now. We keep things going here, the dormant flowers and their gardener, making the most of what we’ve got until warmer days and open borders.

As a gardener, I know there’s merit in planning for the future that Watts doesn’t account for in the quote above. Amending the soil, sowing, weeding and generally seeing your crop through to harvest are inherently forward-looking activities that happen in the present. There’s nothing wrong with knowing where you’re going while living fully in the present. Watts knew this too of course, but you can’t wedge everything into one clever quote.

Here in New Hampshire, I’m packing as much alive time as possible into each day as it presents itself. In six months time, should we be fortunate to arrive there together, I’ll get reacquainted with the hummingbirds, who like to hover at eye level and check out the character who tends the garden for them. They’ll have squeaky tales of perilous travel over open water and jungle reunions with cousins. What shall my own tales be for them? Don’t we owe it to them to make it interesting?

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