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The Living Jewel: Orinda, CA

One of the oddities of Bay Area weather is that while it seems to be a constant 52 degrees and foggy in the city of San Francisco proper, once over any of the bridges that link the peninsula to the mainland, the temperature increases exponentially. Knowing of my intense desire to spend even more time prematurely aging in the sun, a friend invited me out to the East Bay suburbs, where he is spending the month house-sitting a gorgeously appointed 3-bedroom house with a hot tub and a pool. He didn't have to ask twice.

We spent the evening enjoying barbecued salmon and swordfish and sipping wine by the beautifully landscaped pool, the salted -- not chlorinated! -- water tinkling from the smaller not-yet-hot tub into the main pool. Being technically a desert, the nights are cool and breezy, never stuffy and humid like the East Coast; the trees rustle pleasantly in the background all night, and no one needs air conditioning.

The next day, my friend headed to work and I plugged in my laptop at the kitchen table, taking advantage of the huge pot of coffee and wireless internet to work from the day's designated "office." I had a fat, fuzzy, friendly cat sleeping on my side and the sun shining in, lighting up my keyboard. A nice start to a hopefully productive morning.

As an easily distracted type, however, I couldn't help but notice a strange buzzing coming from the skylight over the cooking-area of the kitchen, a short glance away from where I sat. I couldn't quite see anything, and, having lived in a part of the world where they grow their insects BIG I just assumed it was some crazy Californian fly, stuck in the kitchen, disoriented and trying to get out.

Well... How did I get here?But as the buzzing got more insistent, it seemed that this fly must have a hell of a hefty body to be producing such a racket. I heaved the lazy cat off my lap and got up to check it out. Imagine my surprise when I saw a tiny hummingbird pounding away at the skylight, trying desperately to get out!

Instantly, a feeling of panic came over me. What to do? The poor thing was obviously injuring herself as she plied futiley at the glass. I looked around to see if there was a way to crank open the window, or maybe a button to do it automatically, but it seemed to be a fixed, unopenable skylight. Now what?

My first thought was to chase it from the skylight to the open door. I grabbed a broom, but this just panicked the hummingbird even more, and she beat her wings even louder, pounding against the glass in a desperate attempt to escape the broom. Attempt #1: Fail.

Then I grabbed the pool skimmer, which was unfortunately about as long as the 1980 Fleetwood Cadillac I learned to drive on. I managed to maneuver the Jolly Green Giant's Pool Net through the sliding door and around the kitchen island, only banging a wall or two and managing not to knock anything over, but the net itself was too rigid and the whole ensemble itself simply too unwieldy for me to snag the bird.

Things were not looking good.

I decided to give it a break, and hit up some of the birding communities on the Internet for some advice. The general consensus was: Scare her down, then try to grab her and let her free. So there we were. Dina + Broom vs. Bird, Take 2.

I hate hurting anyone, anything, and so I really had to brace myself for at least the perception of causing this little creature to suffer in a possibly unsuccessful rescue attempt. I came back with the broom, and more aggressively this time tried to shoo her down from the glass, around the lip of the ceiling, and out the door. She fluttered and flailed and made the most plaintive extended peeps and wailing chirps, buzzing and humming all the while, but I steeled myself and didn't give up. Finally, she broke free, and flew right... past the open door... and onto a painting.

The hummingbird was panting and blinking. Her wings looked bruised and battered. I wasn't sure she was going to make it. She was obviously exhausted, and let me get up right and close to her. I probalby could've pet her if I'd wanted to.

One of the people on the birding messageboard said to gently take her up in my hands, firmly so that she didn't fly away, and take her outside. This I tried. Sadly, my "firm" is more like "Omigod!" and she flapped free, dive-bombed the wall, and tumbled down to the floor.

I thought I'd surely killed her, but it was obvious from her demeanor that I could probably now bring her outside. Not wanting to risk a repeat of the somewhat flawed bare-handed method, I grabbed a dishtowel, gently scooped her up, and brought her outside.

I was hoping she'd fly free, but she stood there, latched onto the dishtowel, panting and panicked. "Go, go, fly away!" I encouraged, but she was having none of it. Was she dying? Should I kill her so she wouldn't suffer anymore? Then I noticed that her little claws seemed to be stuck in the fine fibers of the towel. Oh no! She couldn't get free!

I found a scissors, and started cutting away at what I hoped was not an especially cherished dishtowel. The fibers parted, and together we gently disentangled her claws. At first, I didn't think she was going to make it. She didn't seem to want to move. Had she given up? But finally, I stepped away, implored, "Go...!" and miracle of miracles, with broken and missing feathers, she flew up and away, seemingly, hopefully, no worse for the wear.

I nursed my own racing heart with a glass of juice at the table overlooking the pool, and shortly thereafter noticed that the pink flowers that lined the pool's slate edge were alive with life: Hummingbirds!!! There were so many of them, just flitting in and out, buzzing around, one every now and then humming over my way and checking out the house's low eaves. I put out an extra bowl of sugarwater, and hoped that my new passing friend was out there enjoying the hot morning and nectar-filled flowers, having already forgotten about the last trying hour.

And several hours later, I received my sign. A beautiful ruby-throated hummingbird came right up to where I was sitting on the patio, and hovered at my eye level less than a foot away from me for several long, beautiful seconds. In my heart, I believe it was she, or perhaps her lover, coming back to say thank you.

On telling her the story, my friend Sylrayj said, "Oh, Dina. You held a living jewel." And it is true.

The world is filled with miracles.

Little, passing miracles. But miracles nonetheless.