Some years back, when I lived in California, our west coast office was located in a small artist’s cottage nestled within the garden of very dear friends. No standard-issue garden, it was an enchanting paradise. On the outside, the studio looked like a Spanish casita, but inside it was a soaring mid-century space with a pitched ceiling and the most beguiling slanted window facing the San Gabriel mountains. This magical studio was not only in the garden, it was part of it.
For proof that California is a verdant Eden, one needn’t have looked further than the views outside that little office. With the top half of the Dutch door thrown wide open, we could hear the birds sing as we sketched plans and assembled samples. The sun would stream through the windows while the fragrance of roses and lavender would waft in, all while I worked at my white lacquered desk (by George Martin).
One day, while working there alone, I was on the phone with Frank Webb in our New York office. Without warning, something whizzed by my head and smacked into the window behind me. Thinking it was an enormous bee, I turned and was shocked to see a hummingbird trying to escape through the glass. “I’ve got to go, there’s a hummingbird in the office!” I gasped to Frank’s disbelieving ears in soggy New York. I hung up and frantically opened the windows for the tiny creature to seek his escape.
Seeing him repeatedly crash into the glass was more than I could stand, so I was greatly relieved when he zoomed out the front door as quickly as he came. I was left feeling exhilarated and strangely blessed by this little visit. A good omen, I thought.
The next day was, yet again, perfection. I relished the soft, fragrant breeze – especially knowing that New York remained dismally wet and gray. Again the Dutch door was wide open and again, a visitation. In a flash, I opened the windows and stood by to witness the speedy exit, but the miniature bird continued to smash into the huge window behind my desk. I tried to shoo him out, but he couldn’t seem to find his way.
Exhausted, he stopped to perch on the mullion of the window. As he rested, he panted heavily. Slowly, I reached for a yardstick. I let him catch his breath and then gently tried to steer him toward the open door with the stick, but he again dashed himself against the panes of glass in futile attempts to escape. The force with which he crashed into the glass made me fear for his life.
Finally he stopped again to rest, both of us traumatized by his predicament.
I had no net, no basket – nothing to capture him. So I stepped closer and very slowly, with no other available plan, reached for him with my hand.
As I stretched my hand toward him, I thought to myself, what a stupid thing to try to do! He would never let me actually touch him and if I were to hold him he would surely struggle to escape my grasp. His wriggling (or pecking?) would freak me out, causing me to let go, and then we would be back where we started.
Undeterred by these thoughts, I got very close and gently wrapped my hand around him. His little claws, which were the size of two tiny ants, clung tight to the mullion. As I gently pulled, he held firmly for a moment, then relinquished, submitting completely to my grasp.
A hummingbird, a creature that never seems to rest, was completely still in my very own hand! I was fully in that moment, not missing a single detail. He was silky smooth and radiated an astonishing amount of heat. Only his needle-like beak protruded from my softly closed hand.
With his heart pounding (and mine too!), I stepped outside and opened my palm. There lay, an impossibly small, shimmering bird, no larger than a moth. With his wings spread and his head turned sweetly to the side, he was perfectly still. Was he resting? Was he injured? I waited for him to speed away, but he stayed. His eyes were wide open and believe me, so were mine. In my hand rested a living, breathing jewel, and I wasn’t missing a second. Our eyes were fixed on each other in an intense and strangely calm moment that seemed to last forever.
As dazzled as I was, I was also very worried. I spoke to him, urging him to fly away. I caressed his back with what could only be described as an immense, inarticulate finger. Each stroke sent reflected light off of the glistening iridescence of his silken feathers. I waited, losing hope.
Suddenly in an effortless streak, he was gone. Nothing more than a black line, shooting deep into the garden.
The next day as I opened the door to the office I heard a tiny tweeting chirp and looked up. There, on the pinnacle of an evergreen, was my hummingbird. There was no doubt it was him. I don’t know what he was trying to say, but I do know what I was feeling. My heart swelled with gratitude to the tiniest of beings for allowing a magical moment of rare connection – and a chance to hold perfect beauty in the palm of my hand.