May 2007

When hummingbirds go bad

By David Feela

Supposedly, an innocence exists in the natural world unparalleled by human beings. While society sits down to its usual seven-course meal of deadly sins, the animal kingdom receives its nourishment from some greater inner grace.

Few creations loosed from the Garden embody such an airy reputation for perfection as the hummingbird, which is why the idea of getting a hummingbird in the cross-hairs of a 22-caliber rifle scope and then pulling the trigger feels wrong. How could the tiny puff of feathers after the bullet passes through it, magnified within the scope, make anyone feel good?

I swear I’m not the perpetrator of this hummicidal act, but I understand the triggerman’s motivation. He told me his hummingbird feeder had been plagued by the rufous, a hummingbird with tattoos on both wings and probably a stud in its pierced beak, the one that refuses to let any other hummingbird approach the feeder. He finally reached the breaking point and felt compelled to take extraordinary action on behalf of those more patient birds hovering nearby, unable to confront the rufous. It’s sad that every species, no matter what size, has to deal with the overcompensating behavior of inferiority, more commonly referred to as bullying.

Junior high was my hummingbird feeder. A boy even shorter than me, Tommy Olson, felt obliged to torment me in every gym class. I’m not even disguising his name for the sake of privacy or against the threat of potential lawsuits. His actual name was Tommy Olson. He had blond, wavy hair (hopefully he’s bald by now), and stood about 4 foot 9 in the ninth grade. If he wants to sue me for writing about his sick behavior, so be it. I’ll get a lawyer big enough to beat up his lawyer.

I lost track of him by the time I graduated, and it came as a pleasant surprise when my 20-year high-school reunion announcement arrived in the mail soliciting information on the whereabouts of certain unaccounted-for class members. I scanned the list where Tommy Olson’s name appeared, and in my mind there was a tiny puff of joy: Tommy Olson was missing.

Maybe it’s inappropriate to take pleasure in his absence, but truthfully, I’m still smiling. I didn’t go to the reunion, so I never heard any of the gossip about my classmates, and I assume Tommy was never found. Good riddance. If any boy on the earth deserved to vanish, at least from my point of view, it was Tommy. I know the world produces bigger bullies, like the Bush family plagued for over a decade at the petroleum feeders by Saddam, but at least I didn’t have to marshal a semi-international military invasion to rid myself of my nemesis. Cosmic justice works just fine for me.

The thing about the rufous that frustrates me is not its aggression, but its tenacity. While the thought of destroying hummingbirds is not to be encouraged, I remember reading that Mayan royalty fabricated entire capes and robes made of hummingbird feathers. I can’t imagine the outfits were very warm for all the trouble it must have taken to gather so many feathers, but apparently plenty of people out there are willing to assist in a bully’s business.

Forty years after Tommy Olson, I’m still working at a high school and the bullies still strut the hallways, transfixed by their iridescent glory. Ridicule, taunting, and ugly behavior must be an instruction embedded in the human genetic code at birth. Teachers are supposedly responsible for stemming these behaviors, but kids have a way of vanishing from the radar screen when they harass each other. No teacher passively sits at the window watching, but believe me, bullies are quick. One minute they’re knocking somebody’s milk carton over during recess and the next thing you know they’re administrators and school board members. Subtlety becomes a way of life.

The same friend who told me about shooting the rufous once offered a different solution for eliminating gratuitous violence from the world. I thought he was joking, but the more I think about it, the more I see his suggestion’s merit. He believed everyone should have a constitutionally protected right to kill just one other person during their lifetime, without fear of prosecution, because every time someone’s behavior bordered on bullying, you could remind that person you still haven’t used up your homicide.

Better be nice is all I can say, if his constitutional amendment gets ratified. Retribution is always heading our way.

David Feela is a teacher at Montezuma-Cortez High School.