Joy on the Wing
A hummingbird visits the feeder just outside my home office window, and I feel a great deal of joy watching him. Such an everyday, common, ordinary, less-than-earthshaking occurrence, yet one that yield’s a substantial amount of pleasure to the viewer . . . at least this one. Why? What is it about watching a little bird taking sustenance that activates the midbrain’s release of pleasure-producing dopamine?
Physiologist and brain specialists could probably wax eloquently on the subject until the cows come home. Understanding the physiological process is interesting – not to mention its usefulness in dealing with problems caused by abnormal dopamine levels – but it’s not at all needed to enhance the sensually pleasing experience of watching my feathered friends.
A hummingbird is cute, and just about everybody likes cute. They can fly, and I’m guessing most people would like to be able to mimic that aerial feat, even hovering helicopter-like as these smallest of birds do. These little ones appear to need help (although they do fine without us), and most people find helping others pleasurable. Anna’s hummingbirds are the only variety that Winters in the Pacific Northwest, and while they surely have fed themselves over the centuries, providing readily available nutrients during the time of year when flowering plants are scarce makes us feel . . . well, helpful. These beautiful creatures are also free . . . the way that many people wish they were free.
Then there’s the nature thing. In the modern, urban settings in which so many of us live, any contact with the uncorrupted-by-human-activity world touches an inner core that seems genetically programmed toward natural things. It’s why nature programs and national parks and camping trips appeal to so many. A connection with the land and all living things is in our bones.
The coloration tipping off the gender, I salute Anna as he flits here and there . . . supping the carefully measured sugar-water I religiously provide. It matters not that he is unaware of my presence or benevolence. My day is brightened by his exquisite plumage and dazzling flight patterns. And I am thankful.