For low-brow humor, it's hard to beat well-placed weeds. Not that weeds are usually knee-slappingly funny all by themselves, but it turns out that they're mighty fine prompts for funny behavior in others—as good as a ladder and a bucket of whitewash to a clown. When I wrote last month about wanting to see what would happen if I let an unexpected evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) go to seed in the middle of the desert olive tree where it's been growing, my expectations were really pretty feeble. I mean, I thought that perhaps new seedlings would come up in other unlikely places. Is that lame or what? What's actually happened is that the primrose has turned my little garden into a nonstop Vaudeville act that has had me laughing for weeks.
The thing about a tree branch is, it's sturdy. When you're not entirely sure of your wings to begin with, sturdy is good. But when you land on what you expect to be a sturdy tree branch and get a flexible primrose stem instead, things can get a little slapstick. Down bob the stems—whoops! Frantic flapping. Up bounce the stems—surprise! More frantic flapping. Squawk! Squawk some more! Bob, bounce. Equilibrium returns at last, and then along comes one of your siblings, to land on that nice, sturdy "tree branch" with you. Bob, bounce, flap, squawk.
|Make that scruffy primroses.|
But as entertaining as the finches are, they are just the warmup act. Our star comedian is this young fellow, a black-chinned hummingbird:
Doesn't he look
Lately he's been trying—successfully, so far as I can tell—to impress this little charmer:
A hummingbird needs some serious feeding to support all that activity. Fortunately our hero is an enthusiastic, undiscriminating eater. He has been taste-testing every blossom in sight—the 'Wild Thing' autumn sage (at last!), agastache, gaura, dwarf plumbago, 'Blue Twister' allium, arugula, basil, the primroses... The primroses. To the hummingbird, the primroses grow on what is apparently a primrose tree. And there are two other trees just like it in the garden. He checks them over regularly for flowers. He doesn't find any.
What he does find is a lot of goldfinches. Primrose-colored goldfinches. In the "primrose" trees. If they are primrose-colored in the primrose trees, they must be primroses, right? You can practically see the "Q.E.D." flashing through his mind. He dives in enthusiastically for his dinner.
And lo and behold, his dinner objects. When I wrote last year about a hummingbird trying to feed off a goldfinch, I thought that was a fluke. Apparently if you're a goldfinch it's just an occupational hazard. As the hummingbird—not a quick learner—tries to sip at every single finch, each one swats him away with the kind of bored irritation you or I might use on a housefly. But some of them are still sitting on those flexible primrose stems, which the swatting sets in motion. Bob, bounce, flap, squawk.
They've been performing this routine at least once a day. Sometimes the squawk comes before the flap; otherwise they don't really vary the schtick. Is it wit? Is it irony? Is it subtlety? Well, no.
But when you want a good laugh, sometimes you just can't beat a pratfall.