I have lived in the Tempe/Phoenix metropolitan area of Arizona several times in my life, I think of it as being in the great American desert. Technically it is located east of the Mohave Desert, west of the Chihuahuan Desert, north of the Sonoran Desert, and south of the Great Basin Desert with the high chaparral of the Grand Canyon area. The city environs are desert-like, hot, dry, and water and flowers were scarce commodities. I loved its stark, strange beauty and I thought that I could withstand the heat if I was careful, as suitable in middle age. The exposure of our foundational earth in all its strange shapes and colors made me feel awed and thoughtful. I studied a little geology and other earth sciences, and hiked about a little, here and there, only going out for forty minutes or so in the very early morning before the desert heat intensified over the orange-red, Chinese red, vermillion, and cinnabar-colored landscape.
At home, I kept numerous hummingbird* feeders on my patio. I filled the feeders with ordinary sugar water, made with boiled water to start off clean for them. That was a bit of a fuss, but the rewards were high. Some days I had so many intensely iridescent hummingbirds sipping at my feeders that I could hear the buzz of their tiny wings inside my house, especially when I was sitting quietly grading student papers, or reading, resting, relaxing. When the hummingbirds squabbled, which these territorial little bits of life did frequently, I stepped outside onto my patio to settle them down. They zipped here and there, to me and away, never in one place long enough to put a hand under them. The Anna’s Hummingbird, Black Chinned Hummingbird, Costas Hummingbird, and maybe some others, were elusive.
Then it came time for me to move, I do not even remember where I was moving to, someplace where I thought that I could save what little money I had. I had had a heart-attack with stroke that put me in the hospital over a three-day weekend until the hospital administration realized that, as adjunct faculty teaching sociology in the Maricopa Community College District, I had no medical insurance, no money, and no way to pay for treatment, so they discharged me from care. The Hispanic nursing aide who escorted me out whispered slyly to me, “This is really a hospital for the Mexican migrants.” I had never seen her before and was too unwell to ask what prompted her to lash me with that particular selfish observation as she put me out. After this heart attack/stroke double whammy, my physical debilitations compelled me to quit my teaching job, which had required me to hike in the midday desert heat across the wide, open-air college campus and which provided me with no air-conditioned office in which I might recoup my energies between the classes I taught. My classes were spaced throughout the day, and throughout the week, and I was paid per class, so I took whatever I was assigned. I also worked a second job just to make ends meet. My second job was at a survey research company, as a telephone interviewer. It was the only evening job I could find, and because of my Master’s degree in sociology (I had even taught statistics at university) I had delusions of "working my way up" until they told me that it was a family-owned business and that no promotion would ever happen. I did not have to quit that job as they fired me when I did not call or show up for work the weekend of my heart attack and stroke, and then I could not speak clearly enough to do the survey work.
The heart attack happened while I was driving from a day of teaching to my evening job. I was looking forward to the air-conditioning, and mildly interested in the answers people gave to the sometimes amusing survey questions. Suddenly, my vision turned gray and narrowed into a tunnel that closed just as I managed to pull over to the side of the freeway. No one stopped to help me. I do not know how long I sat there, but eventually I recovered enough to drive myself to a hospital. The hospital told me that I had had a heart attack and put me in intensive care for three days. Either before or after that I apparently had a stroke. After the first day, I wanted to leave as I knew that I had no money to pay for hospitalization, especially in intensive care, but they refused to give me my clothes until the following Monday when the hospital administration staff realized that I had no money. It took me a long time to recover from a stroke-induced drooping mouth that made speech somewhat difficult, and one of my feet dragged so that I could not wear thong sandals for several years. If this recollection seems disjointed, well, having a heart attack and stroke will do that to you. A month later when I received the hospital bills for ten thousand dollars, give or take, I went in to see the hospital administrator in person, lisping and dragging a foot, but I had to go myself because there was no one else to do it for me. I told the hospital administrator that I had tried to check myself out after intensive care had stabilized me because I had no insurance and no money to pay for an extended stay, but they had forced me to stay by not giving me my clothes. I may have asked if it was true that this hospital was just for migrant workers. My appearance and subdued demeanor seemed to convince him, and anger him, and he literally tore up my medical file. I was shocked and embarrassed. I had no idea that things could be handled that way in those pre-computer days. However, I never paid and I never received another bill from that hospital. Which of course meant that over the next decades when asked by medical personnel if I had ever had a heart attack or a stroke, and I said yes, then there was no record to “prove” it. What a strange world.
Hummingbirds see in the near ultraviolet part of the light spectrum which is believed to make brighter colors such as red, orange, and yellow stand out to them. Here is little story about a hummingbird that saw red. I did not want to take down my hummingbird feeders so I delayed until the very day that I moved from Tempe, Arizona, then I took them down and gave them to a neighbor who also loved birds. But my little hummingbirds did not know that their banquet had been moved, to them it was gone. And, they zipped back and forth across my patio, up over the roof, and across the common grounds looking for their sugar water feeders, then gave up and foraged elsewhere. It was just one more sadness as I locked my front door for the last time and walked to my vehicle. Then a little bit of something very high energy flung itself in a blur from behind me over my right shoulder, and then high up into the sky above me. I stared up slack-jawed to see what. As it dive-bombed me I saw it was a code-red enraged hummingbird, attacking the remover of its sugar water feeders, ME! It pulled out at the last moment, and only the strong, little winds from its wings told me goodbye.
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* “Hummingbirds are birds from the Americas that constitute the family Trochilidae. They are among the smallest of birds, most species measuring 7.5–13 cm in length. Indeed, the smallest extant bird species is a hummingbird, the 5 cm bee hummingbird weighing less than 2.0 g.” (about 2 in, .07 ounce)
Caption: Hummingbird Sees Red
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018