Never still: hummingbirds flit to and fro between Carla’s two feeders and beyond. August, 2018

“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” ― John Wooden

My sister keeps two hummingbird feeders on her deck, and during the few days that I spent with her recently, I probably saw more hummingbirds than during the rest of life put together. They swarm around, off and on, for most of the day every day.

To watch them is to have a whole new perspective on words such as “energy”and “activity.” Not only are they never still for more than a second or two, but they keep interrupting each other, or being interrupted, and then flitting back to the very same thing they were doing before, taking small sips of nectar and then flitting around presumably in search of more– only to come right back to the same spot and take another quick sip before flitting off again.

The red-throated males, more territorial, chased the others away before they sipped.

I found myself wondering whether they just like to fly, or whether their wings need constant exercise. Is their work more like play to them? Why don’t they sit still for more than a second or two when feeding? Couldn’t they achieve the same end– nourishment– with far less expenditure of energy? Or can activity be an end in itself, contrary to what Wooden says in the quote above?

From the perspective of the past six years of my life (this blog will soon be SIX years old!) I am far more likely to see most of what humans do as ultimately futile, in the sense that so little of it will last. The failures or successes of the present, even toward noble goals such as saving or prolonging life, or improving schools, communities and nations, seem far more momentous in the moment than they will seem ten years hence, or in most cases, even five years or one year from now.  Yet that does not mean that what we do has no purpose. And perhaps one of the biggest purposes is the preservation of our own mental health.

Have you ever noticed the therapeutic effect of activity? Whether it’s weeding in the yard, washing dishes, or finishing a report for work or school, directing our minds to a specific, focused task can chase away the blues as nothing else can. It’s why we have hobbies, and why we travel near and far before returning exhausted but grateful to be home.

Wooden makes a good point; activity is far more fulfilling if it results in a desired outcome. In that sense, achievement is far different from simply staying busy. But meaningful activity can be worthwhile even if the target is never quite reached, or if the process could have been hastened along and completed more quickly than we managed to do it. Sometimes the process itself is what brings us inner renewal, sharpening our minds and reassuring us that, despite how many of the world’s problems seem unsolvable, there are still ways we can take positive steps to improve our days, our homes and the lives of at least a few people around us.

The next time you feel lethargic, try watching (or imagining) the tireless hummingbirds. Their energy must be one reason we find them endlessly fascinating. Think of them as you flit about between whatever nectars are calling to you today, and consider that your efforts may be drawing nourishment for your heart and spirit as well as your body.



  1. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    I believe you’ve got it; most of what people do is for the “preservation of their own mental health”. I work with many retirees, and have seen their activities pre-retirement, and then post retirement. The folks that have hobbies, projects, or goals to focus on seem to be happier and more well adjusted to the change in lifestyle. Meaningful activity is a good thing, no matter what form it takes.
    We have one hummingbird feeder, and occasionally have one or two birds visit. They are fun to watch. 😊
    Have a blessed week!

    • Thank you, Chris. I’ve been happily busy with various tasks today, and it has only reinforced my notion that working on a variety of tasks is the best therapy out there. You have a great week too!

  2. MaryAnn Clontz

    On my journey to read through the Bible this year, with our church, I found myself DAYS behind! On the top of the monthly list, I wrote FOCUS! I was pleasantly surprised how much difference that made in my progress. I need to read 1 day to be on schedule. Often, I must remind myself to zero in on one task to see it to fruition. Feels so good to check something off the “to-do list”! I admire John Wooden!
    Thanks for sharing your life skills with us, Lovely Lady!

    • Mary Ann, thanks so much for being here! Staying focused is a continual challenge for me, even without the interruptions that are so common in modern life. I don’t know how anyone can get anything done if they are constantly checking email or a cell phone, so I just don’t do that. It does mean that it’s not always easy to reach me immediately, but it does help me keep my sanity. Jeff’s discipline used to amaze me. He read through the Bible every year since he was 14 years old, and he didn’t use any sort of formula or schedule, other than simply reading a set number of pages per night. He read ahead if he was going to be gone a day or two, otherwise he took it with him. The payoff was seen in his amazing fortitude through all sorts of suffering. I suppose it was a sort of anchor for him in many ways, not just the obvious ones. Matt and I pray for you! Thank you for coming into our lives TO STAY!!! We love you!!

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        Sending much LOVE to you & Matt!

        • Thank you, same here! ❤

  3. Mike

    I guess this includes walking? I needed to walk yesterday to clear my head out. Little did I know I would be traumatised by the sight of the biggest black bear I have ever seen crossing the trail about 20 feet ahead of me. I froze. I did not get a picture. This was four miles north of Waleska on the Garland mountain trail. I was by myself and there was no one around as it was a Monday. Unforgettable. No one told me about the bears!! I have seen some bear at Yellowstone who peruse the campgrounds there ,but never one like this in the wild. This was on the Palomino trail.
    Have not heard from my friend Phyllis on Oahu, but asume no news is good news? She lives in Aiea. Don’t know if spelled this correctly and I could never pronounce it. A suburb West of Honolulu.

    • Mike, thanks for the reminder that I REALLY need to get back to walking regularly. That’s something that has mostly disappeared since Jeff died, though I have never needed it more. WOW a black bear! Yes, they are fairly common in Georgia, at least in the northern half of the state. Most Georgians have seen at least one “in the wild,” especially if they frequent the mountains. I heard that Hawaii was mostly spared any effects of the predicted storm. The big island was supposed to have been most at risk, from what I heard. Aiea (pronounced eye-A-ah, with the emphasis on the long A sound in the middle) is a lovely suburb where friends of ours used to live. It’s where we did most of our shopping while we lived there. Some of the homes in that area have fantastic mountain views.

  4. Connie Reed

    Julia, that was an excellent blog! I have found that staying busy is the answer to many of life’s problems. The hummingbirds are certainly amazing. We have three feeders that we fill up twice daily and have enjoyed watching them. They do have a tremendous work ethic. One of which we could all learn from!
    Hope you and your family are doing well. I so look forward to your weekly writings!

    • Connie, thanks so much for your encouraging words. It means a great deal to me to have you visit with me here. I hope we can visit face to face sometime when I come to Atlanta. I hardly go there anymore, but if I ever do, I will keep you in mind. Meanwhile if you head toward Virginia please let me know! I’m glad you have hummingbirds too. It’s hard to feel lethargic while watching them. I keep saying I’m going to set up some feeders on my deck. Wish me luck! I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

  5. Jack

    There is nothing more despair inducing than sitting around ruminating on one’s troubles, either real or imagined. I learned a long time ago that to sit was to die as evidenced by my mostly ordered life. The funny thing is my wife is wired exactly the opposite. She can be perfectly content puttering around the house without an objective in mind. I should also mention that she’s delightful, incapable of prolonged spells of despondency. Over 30 years she’s taught me to move her way (measured in very small increments), I less successfully her. Vive la différence!

    • Jack, “puttering around the house” is one of life’s great joys! I heartily recommend it. Even without a firm objective in mind, it can be quite productive. Many a happy home has had an actively “puttering” homemaker in the background. 😀 I agree with you that rumination equals ruination in many cases. “Either real or imagined” is the important phrase here. Even if troubles are real and inescapable, focusing on them (unless in a productive, proactive way) just doubles or triples the negative effect in one’s life. The famous serenity prayer is much easier said than done, but oh how I need to remind myself of its truth again and again! Hope you have a great weekend.

  6. Harry Sims

    I love hummingbirds.
    I wish I could hold one and pet it.


    • I wonder if anyone has ever been able to accomplish that feat? I read that they often fly into large glass doors or windows and are temporarily stunned, but that one need only to move them to a place protected from predators until they come to their senses and fly away. So keep a sharp eye out; if you ever see that happen to a hummingbird near you, you might have a opportunity to hold it briefly while moving it to a protected place until it wakes up. 😀 Not that I wish that to happen to any bird, but keep it in mind!

  7. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. ☕️ Hummingbird’s and their busyness are always fascinating to me. This post is such a great read and one I must save. Some days my efforts and accomplishments are known only to Bill and me. I do try to keep moving, hoping to keep aging gracefully. I multi-everything and often wonder if it’s a concentration thing or even attention related. I know you stay very busy and we’ve remarked about pushing ourselves out of necessity. So, I suppose we’ll be two little hummers in search of a new Verandah! I’ll meet you there on September 1st. ♥️

    • Sheila, I’m looking forward to it. September will be warm at the start but soon we shall be swapping in our iced lemonade and sweet tea glasses for hot mugs of tea, cider and hot chocolate. Get those sweaters and super-soft fleece throws ready I’ll meet you there! Have a great weekend and remember that achievements “known only to Bill and me” are often the best and most lasting. 🙂 ❤

      • Sheila

        Julia, you’re right! I truly know where you’re coming from, my friend. ♥️

  8. Good morning, Julia!
    I have to chuckle as you are describing more than one aspect of my life today:
    1. I go to work, write something informative, send it for review, my team changes their mind about how the information should be presented, asks me to edit it, and then I go home. Repeat … repeat …. I’ve been at this “nine month task” for a year and a half. (Ok, occasionally, something gets approved.)
    2. Also at work, there’s a fitness incentive, where we gain points for various activities: Cardio, resistance, attending fitness classes, drinking water, eating fruits and vegetables. So I find myself trying to eat yet another helping of vegetables when I’m already full (because when I was hungry, there was nary a vegetable to be seen). This activity also promises results … and I do get more exercise running to the ladies room than I used to! The net outcome is yet to be seen, but I’ll keep you posted!
    I looked for a study about digging ditches and filling then in, but I couldn’t find it. There seems to be a lot of info on the importance of meaningful work versus activity, however.
    Have a great day!

    • Susan, that “Try – complete – revise – repeat” cycle seems to be the predominant them of modern life, partly because mandatory “upgrades” force us to keep starting on new learning curves all the time, in pretty much every area of life. WOW, I wish I had a fitness incentive. Or something to make me eat more veggies. I keep using old age as an excuse NOT to eat anything I don’t really love. In my case, that translates to way too much ice cream, and fruits for about 90% of my “recommended daily servings” of the fruit and veggie group. Not that I ever get the recommended number, but some days I get closer than others. Does salsa count as a veggie? :D,

      • LOL
        Some people might count salsa as a fruit because technically tomatoes are fruits (?) I count onions and garlic as vegetables, so I’d be tempted to call salsa “a vegetable,” too! I know – corn and bean salsa! Veggies for sure! 😉

        • Well, I’m going to officially count salsa as a veggie, then! That way I can say I’ve had 2-3 servings this week. 😮

  9. Ann H Weldon

    Hi Julia, I’ve always thought that boredom accelerated the deaths of my father and brother. Both had productive careers but when they retired they just sat around their homes with little to no social interactions and little to no physical action. Since I’ve retired I’ve tried to stay engaged socially, mentally and physically.

    On another note and I probably sound like a broken record but…have you given any more thought to getting a dog? They add so much emotionally and physically!

    • Hi Ann, yes, I agree that inactivity is a big health problem. The situation you describe with your father and brother is similar to Jeff’s after he retired. Of course he had been fighting cancer with strength beyond belief for so long that in his case it truly was exhaustion, but I still think that, had he been able to stay active, he would have lived at least a little bit longer. Years before he was ever diagnosed, I read what I thought was a very astute article about our generation’s approach to retirement. It said that many of us had done a great job preparing financially for retirement while neglecting the more crucial emotional preparation for senior years. It advised readers to develop hobbies and interests and relationships beyond the workplace so that they would be able to adjust when their careers were completed. Good advice, I think.

      I give continual thought to adopting a dog (I have/am also considering a cat as an alternative, since they arguably require less attention) but am not yet at a stage where I can reasonably accommodate the needs of a new four-legged family member. However, I’m getting closer…finally have a contract on the town home and just praying it goes through smoothly! Meanwhile I’m mulling over whether I want a purebred Schipperke puppy– my real preference since Pasha was so perfect for us (they are very hard to find; Jeff started looking before he died, without success) or a mixed breed rescue, and if so, whether to go for an older animal who is settled down, or whether to opt for a puppy. No small part of my hesitation is the fear that I just can’t handle one more loss right now, and of course, loss is always a possibility with any relationship, human or animal…

      • Ann

        We’ve had several pure bred dogs and several mixed breed rescue dogs. Here are comments on what we’ve learned. I love dogs but didn’t think I want a puppy. Now that I’m older and have a arthritic knee, I wanted a smaller dog. Think about what suits YOU.

        You can go to Petfinder and specify size, age and other requirements. My ‘other’ was house trained! My current dog is 20lbs (much smaller than our other dogs), age 4 years, and house trained!! You can also search other places for pure breed dogs, sometimes you can find young dogs who are house trained and past the chewing stage. Like you, an old dog is emotionally appealing but not something I cold face so opted for an adult dog.

        • Ann, thanks for this info. I know it will be helpful when the time comes that I am able to consider adopting a dog. Right now I am totally slammed with all sorts of issues surrounding the sale of one home, maintenance of another and dealing with new home issues on a third. My head is spinning and I just hope my health (such as it is) will hold out until I can get some of these HUGE tasks completed.

  10. raynard

    Good Morning Julia. I was at work when I read this and ” just dug it up today so as” not to forget. We had a draining heatwave last week and this summer( every weekend has been raining. So here goes” Raynard’s life events”. My baby sister is now a grandmother. Baby boy her son and his wife. My oldest niece had a premature boy last week. Mary will be going to a family reunion this month in N.C(I’m not any vacation time till December)Besides I have to do” Car Shopping before she goes. The only hummingbird feeder we had years ago, I broke it cleaning it. Replacements ” are not that good of a quality I found out. Last week we had a young lady” walk off the job so she could ” get fired and draw unemployment., Does the theme song from” Different Strokes and Family Matters come to mind? I digress. I have to” coordinate with my oldest grand for info to contact/ plan Mary’s 60th birthday party. I spoke to members of our church and reached out to a member that runs a catering school. Last month’s weight challenge, lost 5 pounds but need to exercise more and” less hand with food and mouth disease lol. I didn’t bake one cake last month and” don’t feel ” fattered”

    • Hi Raynard, thanks for the update. Congratulations on the grand-nephew! And also on the weight loss. I have gained almost as much as you have lost. Suffice it to say that I must have fallen off the wagon at Shady Maple, but no regrets! 😀 Have fun car shopping and safe travels to Mary as she heads to NC. WOW, the one good thing to say about your co-worker who walked off is, the rest of you probably will be better off with a new employee since all of you likely have been doing more work with her there anyway. How is your niece’s baby boy? When Matt was born I came to have tremendous awe at the premature babies who were in the neonatal ICU with him. They were tiny but unbelievably tough and adorable. As were their mothers (tough and adorable, not necessarily tiny). Hope all is well with your niece and her baby.

  11. Mike

    I had a friend who had a little humming bird friend that would alight on his hand- almost every day. As far as fruit goes there is -lets see carrot cake, blackberry ice cream and fruit cake for a start and of course apple cobbler-peac cobbler etc. And by the way, still have not had a really good peach here yet.
    Walking is good, ” a sant-terre “-to the Holy Land as the pilgrims would say- or sauntering as we now tell.

    • Wow, I never realized the etymology of the word “saunter” — now I like that word even better. I’m shocked that you haven’t had a good peach yet. When you go to buy them, make sure they are Georgia-grown. I think it’s remarkable that your friend’s humming bird would alight on his hand. I have the completely unscientific impression that some animals are more drawn to humans than others, and this seems to be one more evidence in favor of that impression. He is lucky to have had a hummingbird sit still long enough to land on his hand! Especially if eye contact was involved too.

  12. Mike

    Have you heard of F3 Nation group? Saw on UR site. and fellowship=- may look into this. Lots of wisdom on the site today as usual.

    • Haven’t heard of it, but it sounds like a great combination. Glad you liked the post.

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