I had never heard a hummingbird chirp.
They always seemed quiet, just the slight hum (hunh, guess that’s where the name comes from) as they zipped here and there, wings batting a zillion times a second.
Because in the front of my beach shack, the gardener Eduardo, endowed with ceaseless energy, square-backed strength and apparently eternal good humor, had put a couple rows of purple-flowered plants that grew into bushes and needed to be cut back sharply. They came back in a blaze of flowers, a veritable field of purple.
So the flowers had attracted at least five hummingbirds zipping in and out, and as I got out of the car and stood watching the closest one, he continued working the flowers and then hovered in the air in front of me, chirping in a way that was almost clicking, as if to say, “Excuse me, Sir, what are you doing in my garden.”
On a windy Fall day, the beach shack served as a respite from work and the driving rhythm of the week and indeed the worries about what the financial meltdown is doing to the Courthouse News war chest. Most importantly, it is a get-away.
A “petit coup,” or little hit, of white wine is downed, some flowers are taken from the bougainvillea on the back fence to set in front of the picture of my mom, and a wetsuit is donned.
Because of the winds, the water is rough, a mass of foam and broken waves. The beach where it meets the ocean has been carved away by the current that sweeps south along the shore where the water is piled forward by the wind. So there a good four-foot drop off from the dry sand to the wet.
But the water is warm, summertime warm.
Swimming in that sea is to become a part of it, rolling under the breakers, stroking through the foam, rising on the surge and dropping down onto the back side of the waves, but not too far from the safety of the sand.
The sun drops swiftly and neatly into the ocean, undistorted by mist, and the sea and sand turn to gray.
Next stop, the Von’s on Tamarack just inland from the freeway. It has a great fish and meat counter, where, tonight, salmon and scallops appeal as barbecue fare.
One thing I have noticed about the Von’s in Carlsbad is how white it is. I do not believe I saw a black, Hispanic or Asian person in the store, and all the checkers are white and almost all women.
It seems bland compared to my regular Von’s in Pasadena across from Huntington Hospital where the checkers are pretty much all Hispanic and the customers represent the races of the world.
Back to the beach shack which has a big backyard behind which runs the Amtrak line, where I partake in one of the fundamental pleasures of manhood – barbecuing.
But to my great perturbation, the apartment building next door has installed a bright, all-night light that shines a ghastly parking lot-like light into my backyard. My street has no street lamps so it is encased in beautiful, velvet darkness at night, now violated by the landlords next door.
So I plan to contact the agent who sold me the place, who is a friend, and ask him to find a local lawyer, determined as I am to join the litigious ranks of neighbors in America.
The swim, the barbecue and the red wine work their magic, however. And I am trying to watch Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” when, as the murder plot is being laid out, I simply shut my eyes and fall asleep.
On Sunday night, as the get-away is winding down, I take a final swim. The moon is full, the tide is high and the current runs swiftly along the shore just under the bank carved into the dry sand.
I swim in the warm, night-time sea, this time without a wetsuit, swimming against the current in the turbulent, wind-whipped breakers, white foam all around in the ghostly moonlight.
The water is running deep and the current is swift. Suddenly I have an inkling, a pin prick of an idea that I have company, that something bigger and faster than me is in the water too. A figment of imagination no doubt.
Yet, with a minimum of movement, I let the next big breaker push me back to shallow water.
Wondering if there was something out there, I walk back, past Mr. Hummingbird’s now darkened garden, to drink a petit coup and watch the Chargers take on New England, in the warmth and safety of the beach shack.
I had never heard a hummingbird chirp.