Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hummingbird Action Response Team, Go!

I awaken with a start. 5:45 am. I look bleary-eyed at my clock radio, which turned on at 5:30 am. The low tones of a morning news program on KKOB are coming from the speakers.

Did the radio wake me up, I wonder? No, it never does that... that duty is reserved for my cell phone alarm, which is set for an hour later. I lay quietly for the next few minutes, but though I feel tired, I know that I won't be able to fall back to sleep right away. Might as well get up.

I stumble out into the living room, and absentmindedly walk to the kitchen and the coffee maker. No, I decide, no coffee yet. You're cruising on four hours sleep -- you shouldn't have stayed up watching "The Daily Show's" take on McCain's convention speech -- and you'll probably want to go back to sleep within the hour.

It's a little stuffy in the apartment, so I open the door to the balcony... and that's when I see it. My hummingbird feeder is in two pieces... the glass bottle still hanging from its cap under the overhang, but the lightweight plastic base and its "flower" petals are lying on the deck, framed by a pool of sugar water.

What the..? I recover the broken pieces and unscrew the bottle from the hanger. The plastic attachment to the base is still screwed onto the bottom of the bottle; I try to fit the base back over its retainer ring, but it's loose and I know it would just fall again if I tried to jimmy it on there.

I must have heard it fall, I think. That's what woke me up. It was still in one piece last night... and besides, the pool of sugar water at my feet hadn't had time to completely evaporate, or even soak into the concrete.

One of the three black chin hummingbirds that frequent my feeder buzzes above the tree just off my balcony, looking at me as I hold its food source dumbly. "OK, what did you do?" I ask it. The bird remains nonplussed, hovering over the tree, probably wondering the same thing of me.

I carry the feeder remnants inside, and soon it becomes clear I won't be able to fix it. I refilled the feeder just yesterday, and had included my normal routine of soaking the pieces in hot water to clean them before refilling it. It appears the water may have been too hot; the base seems to have expanded just a hair bigger than the solid retainer ring. Nothing short of glue will fix it, and that would probably be only a short-term solution at best.

I look at the clock again. 5:55 am. I think of the hummingbird staring at me. Other people in my complex must have feeders, too... and, you know, there are also real flowers around. It's not like the little buggers would starve without my feeder for the day.

Then again, I sigh, there's a 24-hour Wal-Mart within a mile of the apartment, and it has a garden department.

So I throw on a t-shirt and jean shorts, toss my Gobosh cap over my messed-up hair, and have the presence of mind to recover my wallet before I stumble (lots of stumbling this morning) out the door and down the stairs to the car.

Mine is one of only a handful of cars on the road -- Albuquerque is still a sleepy town at 6 am on a weekend, unlike Dallas -- and it's a short trip to the Wal-Mart parking lot. Only a few other customers are inside the mammoth store; of course the only open exit door is the one on the opposite side from the garden department.

Will they even have feeders? It's not the season for them. Fortunately, there are two feeders identical to my old one on the shelf, looking like afterthoughts next to the winter stock of finch houses. I grab one and head back for the registers.

I go to the only "20 Items Or Less" checkout open. The woman ahead of me has a full shopping cart. To occupy my time, I conduct a quick mental count. 37 items. This irks me.

Then again, if you'd been more careful in cleaning the feeder, you wouldn't have to BE here at 6:10 am on a Saturday morning, Rob...

The checker gives me an odd look as I hand her my sole item to purchase. "Mine broke this morning," I explain.

She raises her eyebrow. "You know the hummingbirds are leaving in another month or so, right?" she asks.

That thought had occurred to me, too. "Yeah, I know... but what would they eat for that month?" I ask, allowing a slight trace of my you're an idiot tone into my voice, though I maintain my smile.

I admit; I feel protective of "my" little hummingbirds. Borderline paternal. I have no other pets... well, Abby of course, but she's my parents' dog and doesn't live with me. I adore the little buggers. They each have their own personalities, and even though they're wild creatures they also show little fear of me. One of the females, in particular, makes it a point of buzzing over to me every time I'm sitting outside on the balcony working, and hovers just out of reach... but she stays there for seconds at a time, watching.

This is why I'm in a Wal-Mart at 6:15 am to buy an $8 feeder. I sense the checker is someone who would never understand that; then again, few in Albuquerque probably know about hummingbird migratory patterns, so who knows. I give her the benefit of the doubt.

After pausing to consider a run to Starbucks -- no, Rob, you have coffee at home --

I fill the new feeder, and tug on the base to make sure it's secure. Outside I flip the assembly over, and screw the new feeder into the top of the old one, still hanging from the overhang.

It's all worth it less than 20 seconds after I close the door, when I see "my" female black chin buzz over and start drinking. The lone male soon joins her, and within another five seconds the second, smaller female. All three spend about 30 seconds at the feeder; they were apparently hungry.

I chuckle as I change out of my clothes and stumble (one last time) back into my bed. Sure enough, I'm tired now, and I know I'll be able to fall asleep soon.

But before that happens, a thought occurs to me. Between your closed bedroom door, the radio and the low whir of the ceiling fan... Rob, there's no way you could have heard that feeder fall.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Old Man Gloom

New Mexico is home to a bevy of odd traditions, most the result of the cultural melting pot borne of the state's Hispanic, Native American and Anglo populations. Some of those celebrations are amazing to behold (a pueblo fiesta) while others are hopelessly arcane and even cruel (cockfighting is rampant throughout the state; lawmakers finally got around to banning it last year.) And then there's the burning of "Old Man Gloom," known as Zozobra... which falls somewhere in the middle, with a healthy dose of the surreal thrown in for good measure.

Much like the stuccoed strip malls that line most Albuquerque streets today, Zozobra was the result of a white guy's interpretation of a centuries-old Indian tradition. From the official Zozobra Web site:
Local artist William Howard Shuster, Jr. - "Will" (1893-1969) conceived and created Zozobra in 1924 as the focus of a private fiesta at his home for artists and writers in the community. His inspiration for Zozobra came from the Holy Week celebrations of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico; an effigy of Judas, filled with firecrackers, was led around the village on a donkey and later burned. Shuster and E. Dana Johnson, a newspaper editor and friend of Shuster's came up with the name Zozobra, which was defined as "anguish, anxiety, gloom" or in Spanish for "the gloomy one."

The effigy is a giant animated wooden and cloth marionette that waves its arms and growls ominously at the approach of its fate. A major highlight of the pageant is the fire spirit dancer, dressed in a flowing red costume, who appears at the top of the stage to drive away the white-sheeted "glooms" from the base of the giant Zozobra.

Each year, Zozobra goes up in flames on Santa Fe's Fort Marcy Park during the first week after Labor Day. They even sell tickets now... and the hours leading up to Old Man Gloom's burning are filled with songs and dancing, and generally good-natured merriment.

Despite having lived in the state for 12 of the last 15 years, I've never been to a Zozobra burning. I so wanna, one of these days. But for several years now, my family has held our own private "Zozobra" burnings. I even took the tradition with me to Dallas.

For the actual burning of Zozobra, citizens are allowed to place scraps of paper -- on which they've written down their fears, anxieties, and disappointments -- in a large box located at the base of the 50-foot marionette. Some bring divorce papers, or copies of discouraging medical reports. These then go up in flames, right along with the rest of The Gloomy One... carrying those concerns away in the smoke and ash.

The Finfrock clan has always appreciated that tradition. So each year, we make our own 'Zozobras,' on sheets of paper filled with what scares us, and the troubles plaguing us and others we know. Over the years, those have grown to be pretty big sheets of paper.

This year has been a trying one for all of us, as it has been for many in this country and throughout the world. Perhaps our problems aren't as bad as those of a refugee in Darfur, or a poor farmer in Georgia (the state, and the former Soviet Republic.) But the past several months have still been very difficult for many of us... filled with uncertainty about the our health, job situations, and overall well-being, to name a few worries.

And absolutely, those concerns deserve to burn in a funeral pyre.

Below is my personal "Zozobra," which admittedly isn't as impressive as the real one. I put more time into listing all my fears and worries, than I did in its creation. And this year, like all the others, it was very satisfying to see them all go up in flames.

At least until my smoke detector went off. Another years-long tradition.