one more responsibility

Most of the sunlit hours today were spent outside, clearing away the spent plants, one by one, untangling the vines that have died or nearly so, yanking roots out of the ground.  It felt strangely satisfying to clear the land again, and even while I felt sorry to see the plants responsible for our summer’s bounty going into the compost pile, it was a pleasant day of work.

And it’s always a pleasure to get dirt on my hands.  Always.

A few things remain behind.  The fall veggies, of course, are undisturbed:  mostly radishes and spinach, a bit of kale, and hopefully I’ll be putting in the garlic on Tuesday or Wednesday.  Five tomato plants are still in place, because they continue to produce something.

I only pulled up the eggplants no longer bearing fruit.  The one with this blossom is unfortunately resting on the compost pile tonight, having finished ripening her last fruit, and bearing only lovely flowers.  (I felt like such a free-market capitalist, removing this beauty from the earth because she was no longer producing.  Yet the soil does need to rest… and then other things will take her place.)

And the okra are still, miraculously, producing and flowering, even with these chilly nights.  The jalapeños and bunching onions and most of the herbs are going strong.  The main crop of half-runner beans is in place and being allowed to set seed right up until first frost.

A lot of the flowers are still with us, although I did have to remove the marigolds, which are succumbing to the cold damp nights with some kind of slimy rot at the base of each stem, giving off an unpleasant, marshy smell in the process.

The cardinal climbers and lantana are not only doing well, they may be doing too well!

Remember just a couple of days ago I said I was sure the hummingbirds had all gone on migration?  Well, when I woke today, I went outside and just stood in a little square of sunlight on the corner of the house (better than coffee for waking you up!), and as I stood there in my pajamas, I heard a little buzzing.  I looked over at the cardinal climber on its trellis there, expecting to see a bumblebee, and saw the absolute fattest hummingbird I have ever seen.  Either her feathers were all puffed out because of the cool temperature, or she was making herself fat in preparation for the long flight south.

Or she’s not planning to move south, but intends to tough it out here over the winter.  I’ve heard of that happening, and apparently it’s occurring more often with climate change altering migration patterns.  Some daring ruby-throats decide to stay in North America for the winter.  A woman in Tennessee had that happen, and she had to refill her hummingbird feeder daily in winter — and with boiling sugar water on the days it dropped below freezing, so the nectar wouldn’t freeze solid.

I’m not sure I’m ready for such responsibility, honestly.  F.  says I’ve created too nice of a paradise for them this summer, and so maybe they are reluctant to leave.  I’m not sure what to do.  Part of me thinks I ought to remove the feeder and thus encourage migration — and part of me thinks I should leave it up for any birds passing through to refuel.  The same with the lantana and cardinal climber blossoms:  how cruel would it be to remove any pit-stops on their way south?  Some birds may be passing through still, even at this late date, and need a little pick-me-up en route.

Plus, I have no ability to know if that one hummingbird I saw was just passing through or plans to stay put here.  If she plans to stay here, it may be way too late for her to migrate now.

And besides, seeing that iridescent green back flashing in the sunlight did something to my heart.  Something powerful enough that I could see myself getting up and boiling sugar-water in the mornings this January while my coffee brews.

F. raised his eyebrows at the thought, and sighed, and said, “It’s just one more responsibility.”

4 Responses to “one more responsibility”

  1. John, our landlord, to whom I owe the first glimpse of awareness for this new responsibility (he said about ten days ago that the other hummingbirds have already left), jokingly said we should take the hummingbird inside, “for the cats”.

  2. I so get you on the dirt on the hands! We only saw one hummingbird this year and I’m pretty sure with our sudden freezing temps, they are happy to head in your direction and partake of some lovingly prepared sugar water. I knew some birds have changed their migration, but had no idea hummingbirds were on that list. See? You really do learn something new every day!

    • Talon, I don’t think it’s a wholesale migrational pattern change. I think it’s more like the outliers on the edges of the bell curve graph, who are trying new things as the whole schedule gradually shifts. Who knows but that a century from now, it might not be “normal” for hummingbirds to stay the winter in South Carolina? But for now, it’s dangerous.

      See, that worries me, too. By feeding her all winter, she survives (hopefully!) and then thinks winter is survivable without the long flight. What happens when I’m no longer here to watch over her?? Am I creating a dangerous dependence? Next summer, I’m taking the feeder down in late August, for sure, and they can continue to snack on whatever they find in the garden. If we’re still here, that is…

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