“Look.” My daughter, Kela, pointed toward the windshield of our rental car as we hugged the uphill curves of Mont Smith Drive, on the way to Spaulding House Museum in Honolulu. “There’s a bird.”
“On the car.”
I glanced again and now, quite obvious – a small dove nestled in the windshield-wiper well, tucked in behind the hood.
“Oh, wow.” He’d been there since we parked on Kinau Street, behind the Honolulu Museum of Art. “He must have fallen from a tree.”
I drove up the winding road, mindful of our passenger, fearful any curve or breeze could cause eject him into the street. There was no place to pull over on the steep, narrow road that wound all the way up Mt. Tantalus.
“He’s a baby,” Kela said. “He probably can’t fly. Don’t let him fall off!”
Keeping an eye on the bird, I did my best to navigate slowly to the parking lot of the museum, which was nearly empty.
We got out of the car, and walked over to check on the dove.
“What should we do?” Kela asked.
The baby dove looked back at us, unruffled. He didn’t move. “Let’s just look at the museum, then we’ll see if he’s here when we get back.”
“His name is Pete,” she said.
Now that Spaulding House Museum is part of the HMOA, they offer free same-day admission. I was determined to take advantage of this two-for-one deal. The museums were not far from each other; Spaulding House was located in a former residence in an elevated community with a view of the city and Diamondhead. With about ten minutes before closing to view art, Kela and I went in different directions. I gave exhibits a cursory scan, not really engaging. Worrying about a bird.
In one of the larger galleries, I approached a wall and remembered that here was where I’d seen artist Enriqué Martinez Celaya’s painting of a hummingbird, during a big retrospective of his work. This memory skipped across years and eclipsed the painting in front of me, as if the space itself still held the power of art that had hung there before.
During the Celaya show, I’d been drawn toward the 6’ x 9’ painting, wanting to enter its atmospheric, textured background, to get closer to the large, abstracted hummingbird in the lower third. When I came within range of the painting, I felt a surge of melancholy, a loss of beauty, a reminder of all things temporal. I stood there and wept. At the time I wondered, how was this nearly monochrome painting eliciting such a strong, spontaneous response from me?
Celaya’s painting of a hummingbird evoked feelings of yearning and compassion for a bird – similar to those I felt for the displaced young dove riding on our car.
The Zebra Dove
At closing time, we walked back to find Pete where we’d left him, content. Maybe even proud of himself – he’d gotten pretty far for a flightless fledgling.
“His nest must be on Kinau Street,” Kela said. “We can’t leave him here.”
He couldn’t ride back in the windshield well. And how would we get him back into the tree, into his nest?
The afternoon was shaded, with an island breeze. I wanted to hold out my finger for Pete to step up, but hesitated, based on what I’d always heard growing up. “There’s that thing about not touching birds,” I said. “Their mothers will reject them from the human scent. I want to see if he’s okay from the fall.” I held the edge of the museum brochure for him to step up. He did, stretching his wings.
A staff member walking over noticed us. The three of us stood looking at Pete, perched on the brochure. We told her his story. She confessed she wasn’t a bird person, then left and brought someone who was. Her name badge read, Rachel.
“That’s a Zebra Dove,” Rachel said. She held out her finger, and Pete stepped up. “It’s not true – the thing about touching birds.”
I felt a pang, realizing how much I’d wanted to hold sweet Pete.
We caught Rachel up, and other staff gathered around – two women, the male security guard.
“He’s still a baby.” Rachel shared what she knew about Zebra Doves, how she’d rehabilitated fallen birds from time to time, but just couldn’t take this one home. The staff members, Kela, and I stood watching Pete perched on Rachel’s finger. He maintained his contented demeanor. The security guard, Steve, stood silent, letting the women work this one out.
With the onset of twilight, the moment became spacious, and within it I could imagine the group’s assemblage of emotions, all inspired by Pete: worry, wonder, disregard, concern. Happenstance involving a bird had set a story into motion, and brought together a diverse group, who for this moment, had all their attention on Pete.
“Who’s going to Kinau?” Rachel asked.
I described where I’d parked, where to locate the tree that might hold his nest. A young staff member agreed to take him.
We waited while a container to hold Pete was procured – a small glass bowl lined with a paper towel. Rachel directed Pete from her finger into the bowl and passed it to the staff member, who carefully took it in both hands, as if she were receiving communion.
I felt the story arc, bending toward an ending where only good things would come to this dove. But once in the car, Kela cried, hoping we’d done enough. She googled Zebra Doves on her phone, and found an uncannily apt photographic progression charting growth stages. “Look, he’s the smallest one!” she said.
We won’t ever know if we rescued Pete. I chose to soothe Kela with a view. Curving through the mist-laced ironwood, guava, and pines that encroached eerily on the road, we continued upward on the road to Mt. Tantalus. The forest gave way to open space, and we pulled off to the side where in one panoramic glance, we overlooked all of Honolulu, Diamondhead and Waikiki.
Celaya has written that painting is one way he creates meaning, yet “the notion of meaning and purpose in this life is human made.” I recalled his hummingbird painting, and our encounter with a small Zerba dove. What meaning had I made of the mix of feelings they stirred? Yearning, confusion, compassion. Fledgling elements of love.
Written as two ten-minute prompts on 4 August 2019 at Green Door Coffee, South Robertson, Los Angeles; revised
Notice something small and extraordinary that happens today. Something that might be overlooked. By writing about it, you have the opportunity to coalesce a moment which others can hold.