Down Nature's Paths


Playing Possum

ONE AFTERNOON while vacationing in the Cumberland Mountains, I was startled by a cry that a bird had just flown against the window and killed itself. A few moments later other guests brought me a female ruby-throated hummingbird, which lay perfectly inert when placed on my open hand. Including bill and tail, it was as long as my palm was wide.

"This bird isn't dead," I asserted. "I can feel its heartbeat, and its wings and head are in natural position, even though it is limp. As soon as it gets over its faintness, it will fly away. It is just waiting until we aren't watching, and it can get away. Watch its eye. It's closed now, but I suspect that pretty soon it will peek to see if we are looking."

Before many moments the eyelid fluttered and parted just a crack, but closed again as everyone cried out. Then the others fell into conversation and forgot to watch. The eye opened a bit farther and closed again. Then as even I let my attention wander, the bird knew it and flew like a flash. It stopped short of the windowpane and settled on flowers in a vase. It did not fly as I slowly approached it and cupped my hands gently over it. It fluttered a few seconds when I lifted it off, then it lay as inert as at first. In reply to the question of what I would do with it, I said, "Take it outdoors and let it fly away; it's not injured."

As time passed and the hummer showed no more sign of life than the heartbeat that I could feel, the others tired and went away, leaving me on the cottage steps under the trees with the bird lying limp on my palm. I was considering where I might put it where the family cats would not find it before it entirely revived. In the meantime I was carefully watching to see whether it moved.

No doubt it was perfectly aware that the crowd had left. Several times its eyelid fluttered apart a tiny slit. Then very slowly it righted itself until it lay on its belly on my hand instead of on its side; but its eyes were still closed, and its head lay flat and limp. It arched its back like a cat when I gave it the lightest possible fingertip stroke.

I suppose it could see through its translucent eyelids. I turned my head to look for a safe place to put it and was deciding on a huge dahlia flower on a six-foot plant, when Mrs. Hummingbird settled the question herself by flashing up into the oak tree.

Thus ended one of the greatest thrills of my life. How tiny yet how perfect was this flying jewel of the Creator's! How suddenly trouble befell it! "As the birds . . . are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them." Ecclesiastes 9:12. But with what marvelous self-control it had lain still in the hand of a giant! Its vigilance had outlasted mine. It exemplified Solomon's advice: "Give not sleep to thine eyes. . . . Deliver thyself, . . as a bird from the hand of the fowler." Proverbs 6:4, 5. We are in that evil time; we are in the grip of gigantic forces. We dare not relax vigilance one second lest we be unprepared for Jesus' coming.