My most memorable moment in Cuba, Oct. 21-Nov. 4, lasted less than 15 seconds.

I wasn’t expecting it, hoping for it, praying for it. But there it was, right in front of me, first hovering, then diving right past my left shoulder. Two other hummingbirds buzzed in the tree above.

I was alone on the trail.

My eyes opened wide when I saw the flash of iridescent blue-green wings heading my way.

I knew I had never seen a bird like this one,

but I had no idea how rare it was.

Found at the Beauty of Birds website.

Found at the Beauty of Birds website.

Now, however, having researched online, I discovered that the name of my forest-dwelling, brightly plumed swooper is the Bee Hummingbird:

    • the smallest bird in the world
    • native to Cuba
    • even in Cuba found only in a few areas
    • one of these areas is near the Comandancia La Plata in the Sierra Maestra mountains, the place where Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and a handful of rebels launched their attacks on Batista’s army in 1953 and continued to use as a headquarters until 1958 when they marched into Havana. I took a guided tour of this place October 26 to see the headquarters, now a museum. I was with a group of Canadians in the “posse” of Jenny Cressman.
    • but the thing I will remember most is the visitation of the bird within the thick forest on the way down the mountain.
    • the blue color that arrested me is found only on the male in mating season
    • Cubans give their native hummingbird the name “Zunzuncito.” Perfect onamatapoeia.

Yesterday I discovered a delightful article in The New York Times by Constance Casey that describes the bee hummingbird as a treasure to be cherished. One of over 300 species of birds found on the island, this one is almost, but not quite, an endangered species.

Perhaps the same can be said of human beings on planet earth.

“Take this message home,” whispered the zunzuncito.

It seemed, so close to Advent, like a kind of annunciation.

The flora is as spectacular as the fauna in the Sierra Maestra mountains.

The flora is as spectacular as the fauna in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Photo credit: Tina Glanzer.

I need your help to decipher the message. Have you ever been visited suddenly in a similar way?  Do tell!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on November 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    In the middle of October, when my garden was already bare, I looked out the window and saw a bundle of bright blue flowers. My monkshood, which I planted three years ago, was finally in bloom! There were other buds on it that wouldn’t bloom because it was too late in the season. I googled it for information and found it usually blooms in September. Also it is extremely poisonous, which I didn’t know when I stuck my nose right into it! But all is well! That’s my experience of a sudden unexpected visit!

    • Shirley Showalter on November 11, 2015 at 1:42 pm

      Elfrieda, I had to look up monkshood. What a beautiful flower. And yes, how much of a shiver it must have given you to see it bloom so late in both years and months. Kairos time instead of chronos time.

      Thanks for starting these reflections. Eager to hear other stories.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on November 11, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Shirley — If I’m not mistaken, when a person has an encounter with a hummingbird (in general, not necessarily this particular species of hummingbird) the meaning is:

    “YOU are a messenger of hope and jubilation. YOU aggressively seek out those that need inspiration and renewal and bring forth the best in them. YOU are loyal, playful, and persistent.”

    I had an encounter when I was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a few years ago. An encounter I will never (ever!) forget. Here is a link to the post I wrote about it:

  3. Shirley Showalter on November 11, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Oh Laurie, wow. I loved this post and hope all others who read this message will open the link above. The woman you describe reminds me of an old woman I heard praying behind me in a church service in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Her fervor was other-worldly. I did not, however, receive a personal blessing. I’m so glad you did!

    Thank you for those words about the person who sees the hummingbird. I had a very personal experience also. My friend and neighbor Jon passed away last year. His widow Vi has found comfort in various spirit animals. The hummingbird is special to her. I brought her this story and a little wooden hummingbird to remember it by. I felt very aware of Jon’s presence standing on that path. The message to the whole planet came later.

  4. Marian Beaman on November 11, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    Thank you for sharing this moment of epiphany and giving us an education about a brilliant bird, which I knew nothing about before now. Vivid color in nature has always appealed to me, possibly because it reminds me of shafts of lights streaming through stained glass windows, the thing I love most about “fancy” churches.

    When he still lived at home, our son Joel referred to me once as Mom the Christian Mystic. Your linking a visual image to the spiritual suggests that you may have earned such a title too.

    Zunzuncito = Annunciation, perfect!

    • Shirley Showalter on November 11, 2015 at 9:08 pm

      Marian, I had not thought of the brilliant blue as cathedral light, but indeed that is a good comparison. And guess what the name of the Cathedral on the square in Santiago de Cuba is called? The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption.

      I will accept the Christian mystic label also. I look forward to another trip, to Iona, Scotland, and Lindisfarne, England, to understand better my fascination with Celtic Christianity.

      • Carol on November 12, 2015 at 6:15 pm

        My pastor also told me blue is the liturgical color of hope. Seeing such a bird would make me more hopeful, I’m sure.

        • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 10:00 pm

          The idea of liturgical color reminded me of Emily Dickinson. The surplice in this case was blue.

          Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)
          By Emily Dickinson

          Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
          I keep it, staying at Home –
          With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
          And an Orchard, for a Dome –

          Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
          I, just wear my Wings –
          And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
          Our little Sexton – sings.

          God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
          And the sermon is never long,
          So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
          I’m going, all along.

  5. Merril Smith on November 12, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    This was truly a “magical moment.” Thank you for sharing it with us in this lovely post.
    I think the message is in your own heart and mind, and it is up to you to decipher it.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks, Merril, for this good reminder. You are right, of course.

      One of the things I recognize in this kind of mystical experience is that it takes on new meanings over time. First, the flash of visitation and recognition. Then the inward searching. Then the outward searching. Then back to receptivity again. Friends are helpful always, and especially for that last stage. Thanks for contributing your thought.

      • Merril Smith on November 12, 2015 at 1:04 pm

        And you are right, too, Shirley, that how you view such an experience often changes over time. (True of many things!) 🙂

  6. Mary Jo Short on November 12, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    This article moved me deeply. How special that you got to see a Bee hummingbird. I have hummingbirds in all forms all over my house. I always told Jim they are a sign of God’s faithfulness to us. The highlight of the month of April is when the first hummingbird arrives at my feeder. Thanks for sharing!

    • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 2:28 pm

      Mary Jo, so glad that you could also identify with this experience. I believe the hummingbird’s visits have brought comfort to many grieving souls.

      There’s something so electric about the zunzuncito sound and the whirring wings.

      Wishing you a rush of eternal hummingbird love this advent and always.

  7. Jane Halteman on November 12, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing this tender tale, which clearly was meant as a very personal visit/invitation just for you. I have learned to take these sorts of appearances quite seriously, as you obviously have, too. Your story reminds me of the annual labyrinth walk I take each summer to observe the passing of a high school friend at 16. This year nothing particularly remarkable occurred on the walk, but at its close, I stopped by the nearby garden and was stunned to see a hummingbird couple hovering together just several feet away. When they left the area about a half minute later, they passed just six inches or so from my shoulder…a very personal visitation, indeed!

    • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      Thank you, Jane. And I relish this similar story of yours. Something about hummingbirds, especially in pairs, that drives straight to the soul.

      I’m so impressed that you still observe a ritual for the loss of a friend many years ago.

      I can tell from your photography that you NOTICE. Thanks for sharing this story.

  8. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on November 12, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    I’m so happy that your first post about your ‘pilgrimage’ relates to an encounter with a bird.

    Some tradition says women were all once birds, or something like that.

    I just finished reading REFUGE, by Terry Tempest Williams, where each chapter links the reader to another bird. To me, you and Ms Williams are on the same wavelength, speaking to each woman’s deep communion with birds.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 2:31 pm

      Dolores, I really appreciate the connection to REFUGE. Many readers I admire have recommended this book. I think your comment will finally push me to order it. Sounds wonderful. Thank you.

  9. Elsie Brunk on November 12, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    A number of years ago I was in a situation where a large farm animal was a threat to me. I couldn’t leave my post for a number of reasons and as I prayed for safety, a beautiful, blue swallow appeared on the fence just across from me. I felt God sent that little bird to give assurance of His care for me. It was almost as though God, Himself, was there (which He was),and my fear left. When my husband finally came back and drove his big cattle truck through the gate within a few feet of the swallow, it remained on the fence. Not until the threat had passed, did the swallow fly away!

    • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      Your comment put me in mind of the great hymn, beloved of Martin Luther King, Jr., “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” (“and I know He watches me”).

      It’s interesting that both of our visitations were from blue birds. I jumped over to Google to see what the origins of the idea associating blue birds with happiness is. Fascinating.

      Skeptics would say all this meaning is just in our heads. I don’t care. Do you?

  10. Sherrey Meyer on November 12, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Shirley, what an experience you had with the Zunzuncito! This must have been the year for up close hummingbird sightings. We came home from a drive in the country to find the hummingbird nest vacated summer 2014 had been chosen by a mama Rufous to lay her egg, only one. We had the joy of watching her swoop in and out to care for her unborn chick, and then when birth occurred her comings and goings were ever less frequent. Reading up on hummingbird behavior, we learned that the mama or papa leaves and stays gone a little longer to teach their babies how to become independent. After seeing the little one perched on the side of the nest one morning, in less than a week it was gone. Now we anxiously wait to see if anyone will want to occupy our Hummingbird B&B next year!

  11. Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Very cool, Sherrey! A hummingbird B&B.

    I have never witnessed the birth of a hummingbird. You inspired me to search for a video. Isn’t this one wonderful?

    Other species have a lot to teach us — not least of all — about parenting.

  12. Mary Ann Miller on November 12, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    Thanks Shirley for sharing your experience with the hummingbird and your insightful comments. What a beautiful rare bird! I always enjoy and appreciate reading what you write.The link with the baby hummingbirds was alao fascinating to watch.
    It was great sharing a cup of tea with you this fall. Blessings

    • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      Mary Ann, thank you for commenting. So glad you found insight here. I am sure you have moments of connection with the invisible world also. Wishing you lots of moments of grace over tea with friends and during the work of grief which never ends. Virgil would have loved this story. I can see the tears in his eyes.

  13. Marylin Warner on November 12, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    What a grand combination, Shirley, of the teeny hummingbird and the broad landscape. Such a wonderful trip you had. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 12, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      Yes, Marylin. You picked up another theme of the trip: contrasts. I may touch upon this one in future posts. I have many thoughts to corral so that I can share the blessings of this year of travel. Thanks for contributing your thoughts.

  14. Lois Massanari on November 13, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    On a recent tour of Spain and Portugal, we made a stop at Fatima, the site of a miracle – the appearance of Our Lady of Fatima to 3 shepherd children and then to a large group of people over the period of 6 months and all on the 13th day of the month. There is a basilica at the site and on the 13th of the month thousands gather to celebrate mass. Mike and I entered the area as skeptics – skeptics not only of the miracle, but skeptical of the wisdom of making such a stop where thousands of people we gathered. It didn’t take long to be extremely touched by the whole experience – the beautiful music, the devotion and silence of the thousands gathered and the hundred priests filing out to give communion to the crowds. But the most touching of all was the “visit” of the young man who, during the passing of the peace, walked over with tears in his eyes to extend his hand to us. A blessing indeed!!

    • Lois Massanari on November 13, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      I neglected to say that the young man who passed the peace to us was a young man with Down’s Syndrome

    • Shirley Showalter on November 13, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Thank you for this inspiring story, Lois! We are pilgrims on a journey, and going on literal journeys makes that image more than a metaphor. We can feel the “thin places” between the visible and invisible worlds better, perhaps, when we are looking through new lenses. We take less for granted, no longer filling in new experiences with expectations from the past. At least, that’s one way to look at these kinds of events. Do you agree?

  15. Elaine Mansfield on November 16, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    I feel the thrill through you, Shirley. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so rare as your magic-making little hummer. There were bear tracks in the snow here some years ago, and I’ve had two numinous interactions with owls. When I see an Indigo Bunting (every other year or so), I feel like I’m in the tropics, but they aren’t as rare as they seem to me. Thank you for bringing me to Cuba.

  16. Laurie Buchanan on August 26, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Shirley — I had to come back and take a reminder peek at this post. In looking at my comment from last year, I see JUBILATION jump off the page; that’s precisely the project that you’re currently on. How cool is that?!

    “YOU are a messenger of hope and jubilation. YOU aggressively seek out those that need inspiration and renewal and bring forth the best in them. YOU are loyal, playful, and persistent.”

    • Shirley Showalter on August 26, 2016 at 5:48 pm

      That is so cool, Laurie! Thank you for this reminder. I hadn’t reread the post when I linked to it.

      My word for the year is synchronicity. You are a messenger of hope and jubilation and connection for me. Thank you.

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