In many Native cultures throughout the Americas, the hummingbird traditionally has been associated with tobacco plants as guardians and cultivators. Thus, its sacred moniker as the “Tobacco Bird.” Wherever the tobacco plant grows, the hummingbird lives.
Astonishingly,the hummingbird can migrate over 2000 miles on tiny, two and a half inch wings. During migration, its heart can beat up to 1,260 times a minute while its wings are flapping 15 to 80 times a second. This is a huge expenditure of energy, meaning that the hummingbird is usually just hours away from starvation. It must sip flower nectar almost all the time simply to survive. The Hummingbird truly lives life on the edge.
The not-so sacred human incarnation of the tobacco bird also lives life on the edge. Dependent on nicotine, it rushes from one fix to the next, convinced that life is unbearable without a steady stream of tobacco ‘nectar’ AKA nicotine. It gorges on poisonous chemicals that leave residues on its hair, skin, clothes and breath, just as the pollen from a flower migrates onto the hummingbird’s head and back. The hummingbird carries the pollen to the next flower it visits. The tobacco bird shares its smell, toxic fumes and residues with everyone around it.
The human tobacco bird expends almost as much energy as the migrating hummingbird. Its body grows exhausted by the constant cycle of nicotine stimulation followed by nicotine withdrawal. Its cardiovascular system clogs up, as does its lungs which are fighting a losing battle to clean themselves. The tobacco bird’s brain no longer focuses on survival, or on pleasure and rewards that are not-tobacco-related. It can’t smell or taste the flowers it visits. Other birds no longer want to fly with the tobacco bird. The tobacco bird grows sick and feeble and passes before its time. It’s flock, or in hummingbird parlance, it’s “charm” is left weakened.
The hummingbird versus the human tobacco bird is a contrast between lightness, joy and connectivity and darkness, misery and isolation. Instead of flying free to stay alive, the tobacco bird chooses enslavement and slow death. Life on the edge is not the exhilarating flight of the mighty hummingbird. No, it is the struggle to find breath and energy, to cope with devastating disease, to justify its habit.
The edges we choose to perch on as we fly through life are as varied as we are. We can claim that we do not care about the attached risks, or that “we all have to die somehow, sometime.” But how we live and die matters. We can accomplish amazing feats like the hummingbird while spreading the stuff of life to those around us. Or we can tie a noose around our necks that chokes us, chokes those around us, and chokes off our relationships on the way to an early grave. Hummingbird or tobacco bird? The choice is yours.