Friday, May 14, 2010

The Hummingbird Chronicles

As anyone who has visited Twin Rocks Trading Post will attest, it is literally packed with brightly colored objects. To name just a few, on the walls you will find vividly red rugs from Luana Tso; multicolored Changing Woman baskets by Elsie Holiday; wild plank and canvas folk art paintings by Leland Holiday; and vibrant Red Mesa weavings by the Coggeshell family. It should come as no surprise then that hummingbirds often fly in through the open doors to explore this explosion of color.

Priscilla and Lalana looking for birds at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

In Bluff we have what are known as black-chinned hummingbirds, which are characterized by their small size and metallic green coloring. Navajo legend tells us that the first hummingbirds were large, white and rapacious. As such they often killed the flowering plants in their search for food. Because of this, the gods became displeased with them and, in an attempt to reduce their appetite and quell their destructive tendencies, made the birds smaller. During this process, the hummingbirds somehow lost their ability to sing. The other birds took pity on them and asked the gods to compensate the hummers for their misfortune by giving them beautiful plumage. After much deliberation the gods agreed, and hummingbirds, although songless, have been exceptionally handsome ever since.

Hummingbirds often arrive after a rain, and are therefore associated with moisture and good luck. Surely that is why Priscilla has historically counseled Barry and me to carefully recapture the birds that enter the trading post, give them a drink of water and release them back into the wild. Hers is in essence the catch and release program for wayward hummers, and we universally comply. To date we have not lost a single bird.

Last Tuesday was, however, different. Having been chased around my office for over an hour, the latest hummer to visit the store finally succumbed to exhaustion and I was able to catch it. As I prepared for its release Priscilla declared, “Wait, you first have to bless it with corn pollen.” A bit startled by her directive, I asked, “Where will we find pollen at this time of year?” Priscilla was unsure, so we began to contact all our traditional friends to see if they were inclined to contribute to this process.

“No,” was the typical response. What one must realize is that pollen to the Navajo is like the Eucharist to the Catholic. Consequently nobody wanted to give over. When we asked Priscilla’s daughter-in-law, there was a slight pause before her negative response. I therefore suspected we were on to something and turned things over to Priscilla, who put the bite on her relative. Toni could not resist her mother-in-law, and we got a small quantity of the yellow spores.

Placing both bird and pollen into a paper bag, we carefully coated the hummer in the manner you might encrust a pork chop. Once that task was accomplished, we released the bird and placed the remaining pollen in a small plastic bag. “Now,” Priscilla said, “if you want to think fast, put some on your head. If you want to run fast, put some on your legs. You get the picture?” I did.

The next day, before our morning run, I invited Grange to my office and related the events of the prior day. Retrieving the tiny bag of hummingbird pollen from my desk, I smudged his legs the way a priest might mark the forehead of a parishioner on Ash Wednesday. “That’s weird,” was all he had to say. That day, however, he ran faster than he has ever run in his young life. “Has nothin’ to do with Dad’s pollen,” he assured his mother. Clearly he has an underdeveloped appreciation for ritual. After a few days of much slower times, however, he may have seen the light.

Yesterday Priscilla and I made the mistake of allowing Barry to taste some of the pollen. He now talks like an auctioneer. Oddly enough, however, his sales are improving. Priscilla is surely on to something.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

1 comment:

EthicalAnne said...

Sounds like we in Salt Lake City could use a little corn pollen. Presidential physical fitness testing has my daughter's fourth grade class a bit stressed out. Thanks for another vivid story from Bluff.