Tom’s house

In my quest for all things interesting in the Walla Walla valley, a friend (former physical therapist of mine, actually) and I went out to Dixie, Washington, a town a little to the east of town. Unlike towns on the east coast, many miles of farmland separate Dixie from Walla Walla. We curved around the rolling foothills of the Blue Mountains, passing the occassional pickup truck, but otherwise we had the road to ourselves. About 10 minutes later, my friend pulled into what seemed to be a random house behind some strategically grown pine trees, put there, presumably, to break the desert wind and keep the house from a near-constant pounding. A large German shephard came out to greet and inspect us, not necessarily in that order. He clearly knew my friend but not me, so he gave me a good growl as a warning that I not do anything  stupid nor make any sudden moves.

As we walked around the free-standing garage, I saw that there were other people assembled here, a kind of makeshift Zen meditation and country sermon, as it were. They sat on a variety of plastic lawn chairs and wooden benches, and all among them, floating with the sound of tiny racing cars, were hummingbirds. Tom, the 84-year-old who has lived in this house all his life, shook my hand and welcomed me into the inner circle, and I moved slowly (for the hummingbirds skirt away if they see jerky motion) to a bench to watch the nature show. My friend stood just next to a bird feeder and put her fingers out in case a hummingbird decided to sit on her for a few moments. They aren’t still long, not while they’re tanking up on sugar water just before they go to sleep.

Hummingbird’s hearts beat at a frenetic 500 to 800 times a minute, until they sleep at night, and then they take a mini-hibernation before resuming their pollination activities for the next day. Their metabolisms are astronomically huge — weighing in at something like 1.3 ounces, they are the smallest birds in the world, yet they take in great quantities of fuel. On this night we saw something like 100 birds, totaling 3 species, my personal favorite being the orange Rufous. They have neck feathers that if they catch the sun at just the right angle, seem to glow from inside each feather. It was mesmerzing.

I was clearly the newbie to the group, as I had not brought a camera. I’ll make sure that I take one along next time. Tom’s house, festooned with hummingbird feeders of all kinds, draws something like 600 to 700 hummingbirds at the height of their season. It’s one of only a few places in the world with such a concentration of them. Perhaps only pictures can describe the joy of sitting and watching a group of hummingbirds jockey for position at a feeder — the male birds let the female birds in, but show no chivarly to other male birds, which they yell at to find another watering hole. Scratch that — perhaps only seeing them in person and experiencing it oneself is satisfactory.

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One Comment on “Tom’s house”

  1. Alexis
    June 15, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    Now I need to go put out hummingbird feeders! We see quite a few out here. One flew into our house by accident and I had to chase it around for a while before it figured out how to get out again (it was trying to incinerate itself on our halogen lamp).

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