This past week has seen both Passover and Easter. These holidays remind me to think about renewal, rebirth and awe. A few days before Passover I saw a hummingbird feeding its young. I marveled at the speed of its flight and delicacy of the nest. It filled me with awe. I want to share excerpts from a beautiful prose poem, by Brian Doyle.

If you look carefully at the photo below, you can find the hummingbird I saw.


“Joyas Volardores”
By Brian Doyle

“Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. [It] is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas volardores, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

“Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be… …each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

“Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have racecar hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles—anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

Many of us live in the fast lane, myself included. In this season of rebirth and renewal how do you want to spend your two billion heart beats?

This entry was posted in Eileen's Armchair and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Zoom!

  1. Diane Fiedler says:

    Beautiful! And the artist of the hummingbird woodcut is whom?

  2. Judith A. Meyncke says:

    Dear Eileen,

    Zoom..What a joyful and uplifting message. I love the Hummingbirds! When you are born and raised in New Jersey, it feels as though we must be part Hummingbird too. Everything we do seems in warp speed. The prose poem was wonderful. Full of interesting facts, of which I had no idea. One thing is for sure, when we read from ‘Eileens Armchair’ we undoubtedly, will be enlightened and learn!

    To answer your question of how do I want to spend the rest of my two billion heat beats? Lets see…joyful, to serve, making a difference, keep learning, teaching others, listening more, talking less, trying not to worry, learn how to grow organically, have as much faith as possible, to be thankful everyday no matter what it brings. I think I shall stop here.

    How about you?

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      It truly is amazing to learn about hummingbirds, isn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed the post. As for how I plan to spend my 2 billion heart beats…the more laughter the better, everyday; good friends, love and gratitude everyday, and soaking myself in beauty as much as love. Did I mention horses?? That’s a start, and I hope that whatever I can do to stem climate change will be a contribution that outlasts me. Thanks for your question!

  3. Hi Eileen, I did find your hidden hummingbird! The prose poem by Brian Doyle is filled with many of the facts about hummingbirds that I, too, remember learning. It was with great surprise that my
    aunt told me one day that her garden housed a few hummingbirds! My yard has never been visited with those delicate birds, Yet, the other morning, early in the morning, I heard baby robins chirping
    to be feed. The overbearing pine tree, hung with beautiful pine cones must be home to these robins I thought. I craned my neck, trying to spot the nest–no luck and no binoculars on hand.
    Two billion heartbeats… I would substitute the word heartbeats for another word and I would count
    each one, carefully… I must frame my two lovely bird prints which my mother, my husband and I
    bought one sunny day at an antique shop on Charles St., Boston, MA. –goldfinch and FLA jay.

    • How lucky you are to have robins already Elaine! We have a pair of not-so-bright mourning doves who return each spring to build a nest in the gutter by the drainpipe outside our bedroom window. Each year they get flooded out when it rains, and each year they rebuild. Perhaps they’re amphibious!

  4. It truly is amazing to learn about hummingbirds, isn’t it? I’m glad you enjoyed the post. As for how I plan to spend my 2 billion heart beats…the more laughter the better, everyday; good friends, love and gratitude everyday, and soaking myself in beauty as much as love. Did I mention horses?? That’s a start, and I hope that whatever I can do to stem climate change will be a contribution that outlasts me. Thanks for your question!

  5. joaneee says:

    Hello Eileen . . . and again I want to applaud you for giving each of us something beautiful or profound or perhaps a new learning experience to know about . . . I speak for myself when I say that I always want to be learning and growing, reaching out for new thoughts and experiences, accepting new challenges that stretch my mind and body. I believe the years between 50 and 65 are the most exciting, perhaps the most rewarding, and when my own energy is at its peak. . and yes, I want to not pace myself too much – but know my internal limits.

    I absolutely love life, look forward to what it will hold to me, but may it continue to be a life of giving. You know some of my credos and beliefs but one perhaps might fit you own question: I want to be reasonable, but I don’t want to slow down either. Perhaps one of my favorite beliefs that directs me forward is: It is not the years in your life – but the life in your years. I live that saying, I love that saying . . . and I am so fulfilled to live such a beautiful life! It is as if I had been given GOLD!

    • I love how positive you are Joan. The comment below Elaine’s was actually meant for you. I appreciate your asking me to answer my own question, and I will keep your answer for a rainy day when I need reminding of what a gift it is to be alive. Thanks again.

  6. Paul Binder says:

    One morning in Maine, I sat quietly on a porch and a hummingbird flew right up to my nose (okay 3 feet away!) and we had a 10 second staring contest. Whew

  7. What a thrill Paul! How could it stay still that long? But amazingly, even hummingbirds pause midair! You must have looked very sweet!

    • Paul Binder says:

      Haha Eileen,
      I’m not so sure about “sweet,” stunned would be more like it!

      • Paul Binder says:

        Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about that hummingbird that hovered three feet in front of my nose. I was a little kid at the time. Finally. I’ve researched the symbolic meaning of the little critter and here’s what came up:

        The hummingbird generally symbolizes joy and playfulness, as well as adaptability. Additional symbolic meanings are:

        Lightness of being, enjoyment of life
        Being more present
        Bringing playfulness and joy in your life
        Lifting up negativity
        Swiftness, ability to respond quickly
        Resiliency, being able to travel great distances tirelessly

        I am very, very delighted to read this news.

        all the best


  8. Phyll says:

    One of my mentors, teachers and friends, Charles Eisenstein, says it best:

    The meaning of life is to find your GIFT.
    The purpose of life is to GIVE IT AWAY.

    I delight in animals, nature, art, beauty, harmony, kindness, creativity, inspiration, peace, place, and passions. The comfort of friends, family and freedom to express, nurture, share and care are always in my heart.

    Here’s a short video (6 min), by Charles, that I like and hope you will, too:


  9. Lee Wasserman says:

    What a wonderful way to express thanks for spring and launch into this new season of promise. Thank you, Eileen.

  10. Win Smith says:

    Hi Eileen,

    I will paraphrase a humming bird story that a colleague of mine used to tell. One day a barn caught on fire and all of the birds and animals watched as it burned with the exception of a hummingbird who filled up his small beak with water and put the few drops of water he could hold onto the fire. He did this time and time again to the amusement of all. Finally, a crow called out, “You foolish little hummingbird. Your effort is for naught.” Without pause, the hummingbird said, “I am doing the best I can!” And, he kept on!


    • eileenrockefeller says:

      This reminds me of the song, “This little light of mine, I’m goin’ to let it shine…”! Wonderful story Win! xox, Eileen

  11. Maria Norris says:

    When I was in Costa Rica last January our guide showed us a hummingbird nest totally made from spider webs which stretches as the babies grow and retracts when it has eggs and mother needs to leave, nature is amazing and it teaches us every day. I can share the photo if anyone would like to see it.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Oh please do Maria! Can you post a photo here? If so, I’m sure that other readers would like to see it. Thanks for chiming in.

  12. eileenrockefeller says:

    What a nice video, Phyll. Thanks for including it. I love the quote especially!

  13. Georgianna Eiland says:

    I am new to posting. This is my first time to comment. I am enjoying your stories. Inspirational and thought provoking, To answer your question. I would take longer walks, stop and smell the roses. Spend time with family. Enjoy a good laugh. The Hummingbird feeders go up next week here in Oklahoma. Can’t wait!

  14. eileenrockefeller says:

    Dear Georgianna, Welcome! I’m glad you found my blog – especially after I had just been to your beautiful state and had enjoyed watching barrel racing and pole bending! That was part of my “zooming” phase of the month! I hope you get to enjoy some of the hummingbirds at your feeders as they zoom from there to flowers. Happy spring!

  15. Thanks Eileen for the Post. I’ll have to check more of Brian Doyle’s works, I even went to HS in Ottawa and didn’t know his name…:) His description of Flying Jewels was wonderful, I heard in China they call some Giant Bees…:).., they are so beautiful and the Rufous had a Peacock sort of two-tone effect that was amazing and they all do a bit I think.

    They can control the coloration, by the angle of the special Fibre-optic Feathers that they have, knowing exactly how much to turn the hundreds of tiny Prisms that make up those specialized Feathers, to make it suddenly a bright Orange or Red, to entice a mate or maybe scar a foe too.

    The Owls too had a specialized set of feathers for hearing and ones on their wings for Silent Flight…but I could hear them but never got to see any of the Owls hiding in the trees…

    And I am always so amazed to hear about their physiology! And the one thing that caught me in your post, was that they could do 500 miles in a stretch…that was amazing to me. I thought surely, they MUST need to be stopping for a a flower break every few hundred yards or kilometer or so …but 500 miles???? The efficiency factor seems incredible! To get so much mileage, off of a Tank of Pollen…

    The Hummingbirds remind me the concept of a Yogi or Meditation method, how they can vary that pace of living, from super high speed to a torpid Yogi in a box, living on little oxygen…

    I think they taught me that the far ends of the energy Spectrum can be dangerous and maybe best avoided or left for when that “reserve is needed. But I love the concept that as long as you are well fed and exercised and eating good food and getting enough rest…

    Then one can enjoy all ranges of the human energy spectrum and find the right balance of a wide range.

    That also is a very well-fed Mother, in your Photo…:) which is great to see! She must have lots of Flowers and Blossoms around, in the Northwest, I feel sorry for them, with all the evergreens, they must have to work hard to find nectar….. She could probably get a full 500 miles on her Tank…:)

    Thanks for the brightness Eileen! The Hummingbird is really a Spring thing for me now, but around all season, which is great!! Unlike the Tulips showing now, then the Royal Irises, which I intend to catch this year finally. They are illusive for me for years…and here at least, on the West Coast, maybe a two-week window in mid June maybe.

  16. I like your observation that the far ends of the spectrum can be dangerous. This is a great example of how much nature has to teach us if we stop long enough to learn and ponder.

Comments are closed.