I couldn't help notice the disappointment in my husband's eyes as he picked up his briefcase to go to the office that stormy day in August. Although I knew he understood why we had to miss our annual retreat to the Carolina mountains, I empathized with his feelings of regret.
Every summer when the hot, humid days in Florida seem endless, my husband, Bob, and I travel to the cool mountains of North Carolina for our personal retreat. This is the one time each year we celebrate our life together—no children, no relatives, no friends—just two of us. Once we arrive at our cabin nestled deep in the lush, green mountainside, our worries seem to diminish. Our perspective on life renews; we become whole again.
Prepare for the hummingbirds
Before we even unpack the car, Bob and I go to the old, wooden shed and take out the bird feeding equipment stored from the previous August. We methodically sterilize the feeding jars, mix the special sugar water, and fill the jars with this nectar. We then hang these special hummingbird feeders in the sprawling oak tree near the cabin's deck and quietly sit in the wooden rocking chairs as we await our late summer guests. At that moment, we join the ranks of many avid bird lovers around the world as we marvel in the wonderment of these tiny, fluttering creatures.
As if on a master timer, an hour always passes before one iridescent hummingbird begins to flutter around the feeder to make sure it is safe. Then, as if the first hummer shouted the news to friends everywhere, more of the tiny jewel-like birds come to enjoy the nectar.
For four days in late August each year, Bob and I focus on this three-inch amazing creature. We dress in red shirts; hang strips of red cloth in the tree; and even tie long, red ribbons on the porch deck—all to attract the hummer. Using high-powered binoculars, we study the reflecting colors on the bird's feathers, observe its flying patterns, and are amazed at how much nectar it consumes in such a short period. While awaiting our feathered visitors, we talk to each other, share our deepest feelings, and enjoy the tenderness of being alone. Yes, this retreat in August is special.
Until this year. Because of job conflicts, we couldn't go on our annual retreat. For days Bob and I had moped around the house, not daring to share our disappointment, but inwardly feeling each other's emptiness and frustration.
After Bob had left for the office that stormy day, I decided to see if maybe, just maybe, I could attract hummingbirds to our Florida backyard. We had heard from friends, also hummingbird fans, that it is indeed rare for the hummer to come into our area.
Hoping for the impossible, I went to the local hardware store and purchased several plastic feeder jars and painted red stripes around the top and bottom of the jars. Methodically, just like on our mountain retreat, I sterilized the jars, mixed the sweet, red sugar water, and filled the feeders to the rim. I then hung these around the large tree next to our kitchen patio. Knowing that the hummingbird seemed to be attracted to the color red, I tied several bright red Christmas aprons to the tree and even hung a large red overnight bag near the feeder.
Now someone looking into our backyard could think I had lost my mind, but this was worth a chance. Maybe we could create our mountain retreat right here in our backyard. Maybe the hummingbirds would be attracted to our home.
When Bob came in that evening, he still seemed out-of-sorts and moody until he looked in the backyard.
"What in the world have you done?" he asked in amazement, as he stared at the feeders of red nectar and the bright red fabrics waving in the breeze. "You know the birds rarely come to this part of the state."
"Well, it's worth a try," I said. "Besides, what do we have to lose?"
We both must have been hopeful, for that evening as we sat on the patio eating dinner, we could not take our eyes off the decorated tree. We had our dessert and even chose to watch the sunset instead of 1V that night. We talked quietly and found ourselves laughing and unwinding, as if we were at our mountain retreat. But our hopes were in vain for there were no hummingbirds.
The next morning was the same. Nothing had eaten the nectar; nothing had even flown in sight. Bob left for work looking a bit despondent and just had to mention, "You know that today is the very day we were supposed to leave for the mountains."
That did it. I had to lure a hummingbird to our home. I went to the local nursery and purchased some bright, red cardinal flowers and planted these around the kitchen patio. My 'bsession with attracting the tiny bird was becoming noticeably compulsive as neighbors began peering over our wooden fence that afternoon.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Bruce. Are you trying to decorate for Christmas in August?" one neighbor commented slyly.
Another neighbor commented on how my red "flags" didn't go with the yellow brick on my home, and my daughter's friend wanted to know if we were having a belated Fourth of July party. But I didn't let the humorous comments bother my efforts. I was determined to attract a tiny hummer.
Late that afternoon, just about the same time we were scheduled to arrived at our mountain retreat, I was washing dishes in the kitchen. I glanced outside at the shade tree, longing for a tiny bird to fly toward my feeder, when I thought I saw something shiny on the cardinal plant. Was it a shiny butterfly fluttering around? I leaned closer to the window to get a better look and knew it wasn't a butterfly; it was a hummingbird! We had attracted the most gorgeous ruby-throated hummer I had ever seen to our backyard.
I quietly perched myself at the kitchen table to watch the bird flutter and feed, only for it to fly away immediately. I know it wilt come back, I thought to myself, it just has to.
Bob arrived home that day about an hour later, and I couldn't wait to tell him about the visit of the hummer. "It really did fly around the feeder," I said excitedly. "Maybe it didn't feed, but it was here."
They sit, look, and wait
I knew he was a bit skeptical, but again we took our places at the "lookout" table and stared at the tree. About an hour had passed when we finally saw action in the air. Not one, not two, but five hummingbirds were flying around the red fabrics and tempting feeders. They were flying up, down, sideways, and even upside down as they tried to suck the sweet nectar out of the jars.
As we held hands and watched the aerial acrobatics, Bob smiled with satisfaction while I laughed with a feeling of fulfillment. The hummingbirds had really come to our home and on the very day we would have observed them in the mountains, We felt contentment; our August retreat was complete.
For the past five years, Bob and I have sought this mystical bird sanctuary far away from our daily lives. We have planned, prepared, and driven miles to capture a brief four days of the hummingbird's marvelous habits. Then upon leaving our mountain retreat, we have waited all year in anticipation of experiencing this moment again, only to realize the bird was in our backyard all the time.
The blessing of the tiny hummingbird taught me an unforgettable lesson about God. Don't we all yearn for that mountain-top experience, that exhilarating spiritual high, that perfect retreat with Him? While we make plans and preparations to meet with God and search the world over to find Him, all we need to do is realize that He is with us all the time.