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An intoxicating time of year


This can’t be the end of summer.

Yes, Labor Day has come and gone, and school has started, although there’s some question about the teachers’ contract that expired on Friday and, as best can be determined at this point, that has not been settled or extended.

But Mother Earth waits for neither teachers nor school committees. Days are getting shorter; the season is changing, even though we have an extension of summer-like weather.

These days have a special quality.

Perhaps it is the cooler nights that provide a hint of what’s to come. Maybe it is the long shadows that give everything such stark contrast. It could also be the garden and the lawn. The gardens are in overdrive. The half dozen zinnias that looked pathetic in July with one or two blossoms have exploded with color. Likewise, the dahlias are bursting. To Carol’s joy, honeybees are drunk with the outpouring of nectar. We haven’t seen many honeybees this summer, which seemed a confirmation of the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has affected the species. But they’re here now, and that’s reassuring. They are so intent on their harvest, buried in the petals of the flowers, with legs bulked up with pollen, that we have to shake them out of cut flowers before bringing them inside.

The lawn had a similar outburst. The crabgrass has taken off. Only at this time of year does the lawn look so green.

It’s the cannas, with their red-flowered stalks, however, that have become a center of attraction.

Carol caught sight of our newest visitor a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it wasn’t easy to spot and at first I thought Carol had just gotten lucky to see a humming bird.

“He was back this morning,” she said triumphantly as if we had a visit from the Queen of England.

On the off chance of seeing it, I went to the window and looked out. The cannas, their red flags bowing in the breeze, stood soldierly.

My son Ted, who lives in Saunderstown, has plenty of humming birds. My father’s place has a feeder hanging from the porch eves that sometimes has a couple of the birds at a time. Their antics can look more like a fight as they swoop in and out to feed. But the little hummers have passed us by until now.

“I’m going to get a feeder,” Carol declared emphatically.

“But we have a feeder. We had it out there all last summer,” I countered.

“That thing never worked,” she said.

She was right; nothing stopped at the feeder, with its red plastic blossoms, not even bumblebees.

When I got home that evening, a pear-shaped feeder hung from a rod between the cannas. The sunlight refracted off its saccharine contents like a beacon to any hummer in the neighborhood.

Carol was optimistic.

“It comes in the morning and at evening, just wait.”

I went out on the porch. Carol suggested that was probably a bad idea until the hummer became acclimated. I was about to turn, when this tiny object zipped into the scene, stopped in mid air and zeroed in on the cannas.

We both held our breath, not wanting to jinx the visit. He was gone as quickly as he had appeared.

“What about the feeder? Has he used it yet?” I wanted to know.

“All the time,” she answered.

“He must be bulking up for the flight,” she said. The bird was back and this time it was at the feeder. He was gone and then back again in less than a minute. Carol’s appraisal made perfect logic. Humming birds migrate thousands of miles, a seemingly impossible commute for such a tiny creature. They needed a lot of energy for such a feat.

By the third day, Carol said she changed the solution in the feeder.

I found this strange. Were we to feed the hummer a different cocktail before departure? No, she assured me, although “cocktail” fit the condition. Apparently the sugary mix goes bad after a time and starts to ferment.

The next day there was no sign of the hummer, or the next. Perhaps our visitor was in Connecticut, or even further south. There was no way of knowing.

Then, on the third day, it was back.

Carol was thrilled by the visit.

And then it hit me. This humming bird wasn’t bulking up for the flight south. No, like the rest of us, it was drinking in the last of summer and perhaps, like us too, was somewhat intoxicated by it.


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