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July 11, 2006
Good, I said to our guest when I came outside. That seat is where you have the best chance of seeing Ethel.,/i> The cool of morning or the cool of evening: she comes to the feeder a lot at those times. Or maybe she comes there a lot all day, and it's only then that we slow down enough to watch for her.

That area of the garden is set up for hummingbird-watching: a triangle of feeders filled with fresh nectar, two of them hanging from the arbor that supports her favorite trumpet vine, lots of nice leafy cover, plenty of space to make a clean getaway when she's finished -- all within easy view of the picnic table beneath the dogwood tree.

But sometimes she doesn't make a getaway. Sometimes she perches on a vine and preens herself, fluffing out her tiny feathers, then smoothing them back down with her long bill. And last evening she flew up to the small dead branch of an oak tree to preen, staying there for a long time. Long enough for us to watch her for longer than we've ever had the opportunity to watch her before.

I don't see her, said Q. Where is she?

Look where I'm pointing, I said -- but that's hard when you're pointing to a spot twenty feet above your head -- a modest parallax effect must be factored in. And when you're pointing to one branch amid dozens of other branches. And when the thing to which you point is two inches long.

I see something that looks like a dead leaf, he said at last.

Ssshh. That's Ethel. Ethel is a little vain about her iridescence. It is true that she looks a little like a dead leaf from her underside, but a person doesn't have to draw attention to the fact.

Finally we all saw her, and we gazed at her for a long time while she conducted her toilette. Then she flew off, heading for the yard of Grace next door. She made a few more visits before the light faded and we all decided to call it a day. A most satisfying hummingbird day.

What a happy place, the garden. The more you watch it, the more you see: so many little animals, so many new plants, so many lovely frames for the clouds in the sky. The more you listen to it, the more you hear: the warning chirps of birds as they keep one another informed about the whereabouts of the cats, their longer courting songs, the insects' rhythmic chants, the rustle of the wind as it stirs the leaves. The soft click of cutlery against china is part of the symphony, too, and our quiet conversation: we aren't apart from nature. We are part of nature. We eat and drink along with everybody else: depriving three fish of life as the robin deprives the worm, opening a peach to release its sweet perfume into the air. The garden is full of drama and intrigue: two doves copulated matter-of-factly right in front of me last afternoon, and then groomed one another for fifteen minutes: avian afterplay. The cats crouch in the grass, hoping for a hunt. And all the while, worms work steadily below the surface, making it all possible. No wonder God set Adam and Eve in a garden -- you can learn everything you need to know there.

Today I will find the lid of an unused jar and attach it somehow to the arbor. It will be a hummingbird bath: just the right depth for her tiny body.
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