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  • Danielle Foushée

Firescape & Nectar

Like ink on a sheet of thick drawing paper, curiosity and possibility bleed deeply into my life and labor. These values draw me like a contour line — around jagged mountains, across sloping valleys, and down river currents— as I explore the terrain ahead. My map has no roads; only animal trails that fade in and out as I make my way from one place to the next. I sometimes encounter others along my way. I pause, we touch, before I continue apace. 

Broad-tailed Hummingbird / Photo: Greg Schecter

In the distance, light bounces a certain way. Aspen leaves shhhhhh… a lizard scurries under a rock. A broad-tailed hummingbird is my guide. His heart beats 1200 times per second, and I race to keep up as he zooms from spot to spot. Luminescent emerald feathers make his tiny body glow. And his scarlet head reflects the sun’s intensity. His wings purr like an engine at a rate of 80 flaps per second. My quest for knowledge and the hummingbird’s frantic search for nectar are the things that both sustain and consume us. 

I named my avian friend Zipper, and like him, I’m everywhere all at once. He sees me, and hovers in front of my face for a moment. Eye contact. Understanding. We’re drunk on our senses, on desire — looking for something — I’m not sure what exactly. Urgency, emergency. Zipper knows me, I suspect in this life and in earlier ones. 

Extreme contradiction is a survival mode. To rest, hummingbirds enter torpor, a hibernation-like state during which their body temperature dives from 107° to 48° Fahrenheit and their heart rate slows by up to 90%. During my own version of torpor, thoughts and ideas saturate my mind like sticky sugar pine sap. Stuck and overstimulated, creative practices can transform these intangible, undefinable objects into physical artifacts. I make a drawing. I write some words. I pitch a tent — my nest. I’m exhausted. I sleep. 

The ideas in my nest are like seeds, dormant — for now. Sometimes, seeds need the intense heat of fire to finally burst open. Forest fires induce germination for plants including lodgepole pine, giant sequoia, manzanita, and various mallow species. I meditate on my seeds, and imagine a fire cracking them open.

After closing camp in the morning, I wander through last year’s firescape. Its blackened scars follow the contours on my map. Hundreds of downed trees are like giant pick-up sticks as far as the eye can see. I’m surprised and delighted to find my friend Zipper nearby. He flies low to the ground, ducking and diving through an explosion of tender leaves and multicolored flowers bulging out from under the fire’s devastation. Majestic magenta spires stand tall above the greenery. White daisies are like popcorn against the scorched earth. Purple lupine and yellow penstemon stalks sing soprano and bass lines in harmony. Bumble bees seem downright lazy, lumbering from flower to flower, trading pollen for nectar, and bumping into things.

Wildflowers after fire in Dixie National Forest, Utah

Zipper drinks and drinks. He must consume half his body weight each day to keep up his frenzied pace. Most hummingbirds visit up to 2,000 flowers per day, and Zipper finds gluttony at today’s bottomless buffet. I gulp from this landscape too. I sit down on a log with my notebook — it goes everywhere I go. The warmth of the sun is on my neck, my pencil in hand. I possess this place. Like Thoreau, I own it with my eyes. It is mine. I write — about a practice that needs more practice, a story that needs more story, and a never-ending ending.

©2020 Danielle Foushée / No part of this essay or accompanying photos may be reproduced without written consent from the author.

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