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Poetry Friday: The Hummingbird At Lowell Observatory

Liz Blaker

Nuances on Earth and the vastness of space come together in this week's installment of Poetry Friday. KNAU listener and Earth Notes writer, Liz Blaker, reads an original poem inspired by a tiny hummingbird at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff and the depths of the universe. 

My name is Liz Blaker, and I’ve been a writer for Earth Notes for a number of years, and I’m also a biologist. So, this poem I wrote happens to be about a hummingbird nest and a hummingbird that we discovered – my partner Dyer discovered, or others discovered – at Lowell Observatory.

So, the interesting thing about this hummingbird nest is that it was built on a loop of cable, just hanging down under the eaves of an Instrument Laboratory. And so, people were enjoying going over that and looking out the window of the laboratory and seeing the hummingbird going about her business.

One of the things that I have always really enjoyed and found meaningful is the connection between all living things and the universe itself. When I was doing microbiology, I would look into the microscope, and it was a whole world in there. It was like falling into this world to see all that was going on in the microscope. And no matter how deeply you look, there’s more to see. And the same is true with space: when I look up in the sky at night, I think of all the vast distances, and no matter how deeply we look into space, there’s more. And, when you look at an individual life of an animal, a bird raising her family, it’s another kind of connection to the continuation of life from the primordial cell on forward and that we’re all part of that. So, I think that it was sort of random thoughts kind of like that that spoke to me through seeing this hummingbird and the process that she was going through.

So, the poem is called ‘The Hummingbird at Lowell Observatory”:

On a loop of communications cable

under the eaves of the astronomy lab

A hummingbird builds her nest.

She starts with thistledown

binding it to the cable with spiders' silk

to make a soft platform.

she is a shining green blur

on her errands in the forest

harvesting dandelion fluff and lichen.

Have you ever looked at the feet of a hummingbird?

They are barely there,

a bit of leftover tendon

hanging under the brilliant

glory of the bird that lives in the air.

Now she uses these feet

to tread the nest lining

into a soft, springy felt.

Her needle-like bill is now a weavers' shuttle

working the weft of spider's silk

through the warp of tree moss and down.

Around her she shapes a cup

just the right size, just the right shape

to hold two white eggs the size of peas.

An astronomer looks up from the telescope parts

on his workbench; through the day-bright window

he sees the hummingbird sitting in her nest

on the swag of cable.

She is dozing, her eyes closed,

spring breezes play music in the trees around her,

a sulphur butterfly dances by.

She is one bird, one life,

holding an infinity of lives already lived and yet to be lived,

She burns fierce sun-fire, energy converting to matter and back again.

The eye of the telescope searches the depths of the universe

so that we may know how it began.

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at