The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

A Birdbrain Journal by Carmen Kunze


I saw her today. She was picking furiously at the purple flowers growing on our lopsided hedges. Sometimes she comes with her boyfriend, but usually she comes alone. Seeing her tells me that winter has arrived in South Florida and that change is in the air. Florida is not known to have a large population of hummingbirds, but every time they migrate my behavior borders somewhere between childish giddiness and obsession.


I pour myself a cup of coffee and look at my watch. It’s 8 a.m. when she starts eating in the backyard, swooping up and down between the trees and then perching at the end of a long branch. I take a picture with my Iphone when she decides to use the new feeder. I post it online for friends to see, a plastic red jug hanging on a pole next to a fluttering blur. Ansel Adams got nothin’ on me.


As with any hobby or sport, the personal investment of time and effort can be minimal or extreme. For example, my husband grows orchids and will never be satisfied just to look at them. He needs to know the scientific names, bloom colors, grow regions and I’m sure with enough beer he might even do an interpretive dance dedicated to the Cattleya. Of course I would never squash his spirit, but so far I haven’t found any tap shoes in his shed or I’d be calling a lawyer. Hummingbirds hook me in the same way. They are a tonic for my soul and I’ll gladly drink from that cup all winter long.


It’s 9 a.m. I refill my coffee and she’s back on the line so I take out the binoculars to watch. There she sits delicately balanced, framed in tropical green against the backdrop of a deep blue sky. Cleaning her wings with a needle pointed beak, ruffling downy feathers, squirting out the previous meal – I am captured under a spell. Suddenly the boyfriend shows up and they begin fighting back and forth over the blossoms of the mango tree. Typical male trying to impress yet giving battle, it’s no surprise.


My backside grows numb from sitting in the hard white plastic chair and it crosses my mind whether or not laundry could fold itself. Even better if I invented a machine that could traverse the pile of clothes in my bedroom and fold each item according to style and size – they’d give me a Nobel Peace Prize. I’d be having dinner with Oprah. Heck I’d make the cover of Sanitary News, a childhood dream fulfilled.


It’s 10 a.m. and she swoops down again and again, wings fluttering at high speed as I hold my breath watching her shoot back and forth between the flowers. The old man shuffles by wearing pajamas and gardening gloves,

“You want some more coffee?” he asked.

“Yes, now move on they won’t come if you’re standing there!”, served back with an angry whisper.


The show goes on for a little while longer until I’m wringing my cold hands and timing her feedings. Such is the pattern to feed early then go to another spot in the afternoon. I always hate saying goodbye, even if only for the day.

Soon my eyes begin darting around to every leaf that shook in the breeze; following every passing wasp or fly until I realized that it’s been an hour since they’d come. I could no longer feel my rear end, a red ant had bit me on the pinky toe and the crick in my neck was warming up to the Bengay choir.


My eyes finally settled on a pair of dragonflies sitting on the cable line. They were probably laughing about the body in the camouflage jacket that’s been twitching in the patio chair all morning. I gaze at them for another five minutes until my eardrums registered the loud thumping of a heartbeat.

Now I realize what the number one rule for watching hummingbirds had to be: Switch to decaf.