John Carlson: Wishin’ and Hopin’…

So far the only hummingbirds we’ve seen are in books. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonSo far the only hummingbirds we’ve seen are in books. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

This being spring, it is a time of renewal and hope for almost everyone but Nancy and me.

For us, it brings only bitterness and shame.

This is because we are losing the neighborhood bird races. For example, word got around our neighborhood that some folks were attracting Baltimore orioles using oranges and jelly. Never having seen a Baltimore oriole except on Major League Baseball telecasts, Nancy and I got excited and tried to attract one, too.

In the end, though, all we got for our trouble was gumming a bunch of plain peanut-butter sandwiches for lunch, since chipmunks ate all our jelly. Plus we got some crappy oranges. Left baking under the sun for days on end, they looked about as taste-temptingly delicious as Norman Bates’ leathery mother did, sitting on her rocker down in the fruit cellar in “Psycho.”

How’d all that work? No orioles, from Baltimore or anywhere else.

So we’ve lost that bird race. Now the hummingbirds are apparently telling us to bug off, too. This despite the fact that, from what I read on Facebook, our neck of the woods is crawling with them. Our neighbors all take delight in posting about their dizzying hummingbird successes. “Whoa! It’s like Hummingbird City out here,” they write. “The hummingbirds are so thick, we’re swatting them like flies!” others joke. “Tell you what,” the worst of them taunt. “People who haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet must be real bozos!”

So how many hummingbirds have Nancy and Bozo – I mean, I – seen?


What’s worse is, thousands of other birds keep hanging around our place, swooping and pooping and eating their way through our allotted annual birdseed budget. What kind of birds are they?

Ugly ones.

Take sparrows. They hang out at our feeder all day long, like teenage delinquents crowding around a buddy with a six-pack of Budweiser. You know how the Bible says God knows the name of every last one of those lowly sky mice? Sure, on the surface that seems impressive. But the fact is, their names are all interchangeable, like Bob and Betty Boring, The Drabby Family and Annie O’nonymous.

Why? Because they all look alike!

What really bums me about this is, several hundred years ago, I took ornithology my last semester at Taylor University. Like every other class with an “ology” stuck to the end of its name, I bombed this bird class big time. I got so sick of hearing about birds, sometimes I wished I’d tumble off a cliff during a birdwatching fieldtrip, break both kneecaps in the fall then, before help could arrive, be pecked to death by free-range chickens.

True, it didn’t help that, needing money for some upcoming expenses, I was also driving a taxi fifty hours a week for Beeline Cab up in Marion. This reduced my study time to zero. After explaining my woeful situation to my professor in a shameless bid for mercy, I asked if he thought I was going to flunk. He immediately sought to reassure me: “Hell yes you’re gonna flunk!” But the Lord moves in mysterious ways. After intense prayer on my part, plus promising I’d never darken his door in the Nussbaum Science Center ever, ever again, my final ornithology grade came out as a big, beautiful D-Quadruple Minus.

I passed!

The weird thing was, three weeks later, I bought a bird identification book and suddenly couldn’t get enough of watching birds.

Which remains true, pretty much. A couple weeks ago, sitting out back waiting for a Baltimore oriole or a hummingbird to finally show up, I spied a nuthatch. This pale-faced little fella came purposefully hopping along our backyard shuffleboard court – which is far less impressive than it sounds – then went straight up the trunk of the tree growing from the middle of our back deck.

Somewhere on his way up there I lost sight of him, but our brief encounter did my spirit wonders. It was like one of those scenes in a high school movie where the new kid is in the cafeteria, eating lunch all alone, because the jerky other kids won’t sit with him. In this case, the jerky other kids were the hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles. But then out of nowhere, the senior class president, who also happens to be homecoming king and captain of the football team, plops down beside him.

“Wanna share my Tater Tots?” he asks.

Then after lunch, he kicks the jerky kids’ butts because, it turns out, he also has a black belt in karate.

And that guy, my friends, was the nuthatch.

So, hey, all you hummingbird and Baltimore oriole braggarts out there, do you think Nancy and I actually give a dang we haven’t seen any? Well, yeah, Nancy does. But I sure as heck don’t, because I’d rather have that loyal little nuthatch than all the stinkin’ hummingbirds and Baltimore orioles in the whole world!

Of course, should a Baltimore oriole or a hummingbird finally show up at our place, no hard feelings, dude. Great to see ya!


John’s weekly columns are sponsored by Beasley & Gilkison, Muncie’s trusted attorneys for over 120 years.

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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.