Columns » Ranger Rich

The hum of the universe

Ranger Rich



It's silly, to be honest. Ridiculous. Maybe even a bit embarrassing. It's the subtle melancholy I feel when autumn comes, a sadness that will fade in a few days or a week but now, today, digs into the heart with this stark reminder: Most of my life has passed, and now each year, each season, seems to dance by far too quickly.

This morning the hummingbirds were gone.

They came in great numbers this year, swarms of them, 10 and even 20 at a time, buzzing the early spring flowers around our home in the Colorado woods and then slurping at the sugar-water feeder.

There was the ruby-throated hummingbird and the aggressive Rufous and the larger broad-tailed hummingbird and others, too, perching in the giant old ponderosa pine off our second-story deck and waiting their turn or sometimes forcing their way onto the flowers and feeder.

In a blink April became late May and then the summer heat came and then, just like that, a few leaves on our cottonwood turned yellow as September rattled on by. Last week only a few hovered in the twilight.

I discovered hummingbirds when I brought my family here from the concrete of Los Angeles 20 years ago. We must have had the tiny birds back there but I never noticed. L.A. makes you numb to anything wild. My best L.A. friend died a few years after I left. He was a funny guy. I think about him a lot.

Anyway, we came to Colorado and in that first spring in this grand new place I mimicked a neighbor and put out a feeder and the two-inch birds with their iridescent glow came in ravenous bunches. And each autumn, always too soon for me, they vanished, embarking on their crazy migration to Arizona and Mexico and as far as Guatemala, hundreds and sometimes a thousand miles or more. Many die on the trip but always — always — with the first warm sunshine each spring, the survivors and their offspring came back.

Sometimes I would hold the feeder for a minute or two and one of the birds would dart nervously and then, in a bold leap of faith, land upon my hand or outstretched arm. Summer beckoned.

When I first met the hummingbirds my kids were little like the birds and just as busy. School and sports and birthday parties and a lot of other things that sometimes now slip my mind. Maggie, who was 8 in that first Colorado spring, is almost 28 now. She lives in Baltimore. She's getting married in January.

The boys were even smaller back then but today they are big and in college and have beards and I have no idea how it all happened so fast.

My brother, a few years older than me, is ill and not likely to get better. My sister is 64 now and retired from life as a schoolteacher. My parents are closing in on 90. A wild and crazy and looking-for-trouble 38-year-old when Colorado beckoned in 1993 — just ask the Broadmoor — I'm 58 now and I like to watch birds.


So my younger son, John, will play his final year of college baseball this coming spring. Nick marches on in a remarkable quest to be a teacher. Brian is back in school and will be a registered nurse. Brittany turned 30 in August.

And Maggie is getting married.

I thought about all of that one night last week when the early autumn sun slipped behind the mountains and the fading golden light danced through the trees. A hummingbird remained, a dazzling male ruby-throated, battling with half a dozen yellow jacket wasps for a spot at the feeder. Then, at about 7 p.m., a chill wind blew and I knew.

I waited on our deck for two hours in the morning, drinking coffee, hoping quietly that maybe the last hummingbird had weathered the night and might hang around for another day or two, but he was gone.

Along with another summer.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Rich Tosches also writes a Sunday column in the Denver Post.

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