The Wisdom of the Hummingbird

Waiting, and hoping for the best

by Maria Browning

As rain invaded my basement on the second day of the deluge, I waded around, stumbling and pawing through a decade's worth of homeowner debris: Is this the weedeater that works? Why did I save this paint? I struggled to open a long-stuck garage door that would (maybe, I hoped) let some of the rising water escape and spent the next three hours pushing a big broom through the surf, trying to get the tide to flow out faster than it was flowing in, and rubbing my hands sore in the process. All of this labor was absolutely futile. The sky was still spewing water like a fire hose.

Meanwhile, my dog Kobi, a Chow mix with beautiful brown eyes and some serious impulse-control issues, was busy up on the back porch—whining, barking, drooling, tipping over the water bowl and pawing the floor of her doghouse. With every clap of thunder, she'd lunge at one of the other dogs in an anxiety-driven snit. Diligent animal that she is, she never took a break, though periodically she'd stop and stand in the doorway to the deck, getting soaked and staring out at the rain with a menacing look, as if canine intimidation might change the course of the storm.

It occurred to me, not for the first time, that my dysfunctional dog and I have a lot in common. Confronted with a calamity, we both feel the need to do something. Waiting it out is not an option. Action must be taken, however pointless. The difference between her and me is that I know it's all wasted effort, which makes my behavior even more absurd. (Did I mention impulse-control issues?)

Oh, to be more like Kobi's pack brother Nio, a giant black beast with a gift for patient acceptance of fate. Once the rain set in, he curled his hefty body into his Dogloo and stayed put for the duration. Occasionally he'd stick his head out to verify that, yes, it was still wet out there, and once he emerged to sing along with a police siren that drifted in from somewhere in distant Waterworld. Otherwise, he waited and hoped for the best. A lone hummingbird took the same approach, perching on my porch feeder in uncharacteristic repose for hours at a stretch.

When the clouds finally parted, I felt lucky and stupid. Nature, in her indifference, had spared us any serious damage and swamped the basement in spite of me. In addition to the sore hands, my frenzy of resistance had given me an aching shoulder and a crick in my neck. Kobi had lost her voice from all the barking, and it took the better part of two days for her to sleep off her exhaustion. Nio and the hummingbird were just fine.

Published Friday, 7 May 2010