….no one was sure when or even where it came from. And once people were honest, it turned out that very few people had actually seen it with their own eyes. Witnesses, such as they were, were either braggarts in taverns, fish-story-fable-ists on the docks, or mystics and fortune tellers on the carnival circuits.
But there were a few folks whose reputations were beyond reproach; who could be relied on to be almost modest when asked about strange or miraculous happenings! None of the flashing, darting eyes, the too-loud laughter or wild gesticulating that often accompanies outlandish claims of the “whimsical” and “given-to-notions” among us!...you know the type, don’t you?
Anyway, it was always near the Winter solstice, when the chill weather had really set in, and the frost had settled on the last roses of the Fall; when Nature had begun its deep yearly sleep in the gardens, fields, and forests. It was then that the sightings would begin again. The great quiet would have settled on the land, and then, when one went walking home at dusk after work, or in the silence of a grey Sunday morning through the woods, the only sound would be the muffled crunching of one’s own footsteps through new-fallen snow on dry brush…..and perhaps the occasional cheep of a hardy little sparrow, or the rustle of a squirrel burrowing for his remembered stash of treats.
It was in these still and somehow comforting times of solitude that some of the folks who reported what they had seen told of the vision. …at first, it didn’t seem possible. A flash in the corner of your eye! Flitting just there! To the left…or now, in a branch?...No! just to the right!...and then there it would be hovering for a moment…a precious moment or two! Sparkling like “silver lightning”, “broken glass”, “a lover’s eyes”, “a shooting star”, “the full moon on rippling river water”….. those were the words that the serious witnesses had used… the ones that others believed by the fireside when you could get them to tell…perhaps over that second cup of mulled wine, and they trusted your discretion and your friendship.
It was definitely a bird! A HUMMINGBIRD…. “No!.. not a bat, Uncle Harry. It hovered…no! Floated!! Even more beautiful than a real hummingbird!”…. and so the stories would be whispered within the lucky families who had a member who had actually witnessed the little creature!...Not the louts who bragged about it in loud public places, and were more often than not NOT believed anyway by their leering and mocking listeners! …and “Lucky” was exactly the word that described the rare families who had been told of the true sightings…by people like old Mrs. Grace Fairley, by wise Dr. Levi Carpenter, by Miss Helga Hibbard the 3rd grade teacher, by funny cousin Stefan, and by sweet Michael Moore, only eight years old, but wise beyond his years.
They all told their loved ones their stories, and within a few days their households began… to lift. A feeling of quiet joy began to spread inside even the humblest home. The simplest meal tasted more delicious than ever, warm bread from the oven and melting butter became a feast out of a child’s fable. Candlelight could fill an entire room, no brighter than before and certainly not glaring, but full and golden in a new and loving glow. People found themselves humming while doing their most tedious chores, and, realizing they were all humming, would begin to sing remembered family songs from the past, children and grandparents joining in together, laughing and amazed.
At first, no one associated the sighting of the little hummingbird with the lovely change in the households! As a matter of fact, it was the neighbors of the witnesses’ families who actually noticed. To be IN the household was to just feel lovely, increasingly lovely as if a weight, long born and resigned to, was melting away, day by day…moment by moment. The oldest folks, bent from the wear and worries of life, began to straighten in their stance…rising ever more briskly from bed in the morning with none of the usual and expected grunts that “old people do!”….Neighbors would finally comment to their friends saying how fresh and lively they would be looking, even as the thickening Winter would weigh heavier on the world around them.
The crisp night air, the glinting light on ice and snow, the whistling wind seemed to be refreshing and invigorating the witnesses and their families! How was it possible? Their cheeks glowed! Their eyes twinkled!...even the oldest among them had complexions that looked like their own newborn great-grandchildren! Where they walked, they seemed surrounded by laughter and music… Their homes smelled of simple but hearty dinners, gravy and butter and roasted potatoes, freshly sliced oranges, punch made with apples, nutmeg, cinnamon. Pine-needle garlands hanging from the eaves!... and crisp cotton sheets and warm, cozy blankets.
How lucky! How very, very lucky the witnesses were. And knowing them, being near them, and perhaps sharing a meal with them, or joining them for a cup of wine and some songs by the fire spread the luck and the gladness… the witnesses were each made to tell their different little stories, over and over again….where they had seen the hummingbird. What day? …and time of day? Was it early at dawn? Or was it at dusk with the first star coming out? What was the weather like? Where in the woods? By the creek?...Or was it behind the house?... What were they thinking when it happened?...What were they feeling??... Was there a voice?...a voice that told them to look?
Each told the story that was theirs and theirs alone….and the listeners, the listeners of the TRUE stories, sat very still, leaning a little forward, barely breathing but at great peace. And their eyes. Oh, the witnesses couldn’t look away from their eyes..just as the listeners couldn’t look away from theirs… and the only other sound in the room would be the merry little crackle from the fireplace….. chuckling …and glad for their good fortune.…….
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