I would be remiss if I did not mention one particular shared experience that came up in every one of the interviews in this four-part series on the Armstrong Scholars: the hummingbird.
“Hummingbirds have long been associated with Joie, and they will come to past participants at the most magical moments,” says Kim with a smile. “They often follow the Armstrong Scholars.”
Hummingbirds are a unique paradox: they are incredibly beautiful and even with their boundless energy, seem delicate and ornate; yet they are tough, fierce and fearless, working their bodies so hard that they go into torpor, a type of miniature hibernation where their bodies nearly shut down in order to rest.
“If I see a hummingbird, that always prompts me to ask myself if everything is going well. Do I like where I am?” says Jenn Peach.
“A highlight [of the trip] for me was when we came over Red Peak Pass coming up out of Ottoway Lakes, we got buzzed and visited by a hummingbird...that was pretty magical,” says 2000 Armstrong leader Heather Sullivan.
“Every time I see a hummingbird now, I think of Joie,” says 2004 Armstrong Scholar and 2015 Armstrong leader Jacqueline Ruggieri.
“Pete Devine, the director who hired both Joie and me, was receiving an award at an AEOE [Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education] conference, and he was talking about Joie because of a scholarship program called Joie’s Daisies set up in her honor,” says Kim.
“Out of nowhere comes this hummingbird, and it just hovers right in front of me, and it stayed right there for several moments before flying away. Pete and I just looked at each other because we had this special moment that no one else realized.”
Even when the backcountry hike ends, the hummingbird remains a reminder of who Joie was for the participants. Hummingbirds seem to find former scholars and leaders all over the country at serendipitous times, living on past the glow of their two-week program experience. I even discovered a dozen of them flitting around a towering sycamore outside our home the day I interviewed Leslie Armstrong, the first I’d ever seen here.
“Joie loved hummingbirds!” says Leslie. “They were just her favorites...and you know, Joie was a lot like a hummingbird. She was bright and full of energy, racing around, soaking up as much life as she could.”
“It’s nice to hear everyone is seeing them. I still keep a bunch of hummingbird pictures in the house.”