No added sugar was one of my goals, and I have met it. I have learned to enjoy my tea unsweetened, with the result that a beverage with sugar in it now tastes to me like pancake syrup. And yet last week I brought home our second five-pound bag of granulated white sugar this summer.
Where is all that sugar going? Into hummingbirds. They've gone through five pounds, and the summer is not quite over. Very soon they will leave us, so they feed now even more furiously than ever. I have told you this before, but it is a fact so astounding that it bears repeating: a hummingbird preparing for migration, and then in the midst of its journey south, can consume 11,000 calories a day. So that you may compare, Olympian Michael Phelps consumes 12,000 calories per day. You probably consume between 2,000 and 4,000 calories in a day. Michael Phelps weighs 194 pounds and stands six feet four inches tall. A hummingbird weighs about as much as a postcard and is about as long as your thumb.
The caloric load of an Olympic swimmer is necessary for the hummer -- their wings flap 70 times per second, 200 times per second in flight at top speed. That's PER SECOND, people. Who would not be in awe of such a bird?
Always, in late August, I wait for the hummers' absence. Waiting for their absence is very different from anticipating their arrival. One is excited, the other resigned. One is about a beginning, the other about an ending. Most importantly, one is about seeing and the other is about ceasing to see. Thus, the absence is never certain, like the arrival. It makes itself known with no more force than a hint. It is like a lover who stops calling. You knew it was coming, this parting, you just didn't know when. But then it's been two days with nothing, three, four, then a week. She's gone, I guess, you say to yourself.
But still you put the feeders out. Cleaning them, mixing the nectar, doing the things you did when everything was new. It is as if she were still here when you do these things. You prolong the daily-ness of your love for her that way, like an old widower who continues to set a place for his wife at the supper table, like a bereaved daughter who slips into her mother's old bathrobe. For a little while, you act as if she were still here.
And maybe a straggler drops by to refuel. If you know your hummers well, you can tell that it's not your own: every individual is -- well, an individual. But the traveler needs your help, and you're glad to give it. And then he is on his way, with the others.
You were a part of their life, not the whole of it. You can't keep them. They can't stay. Life must go on, for all of us. The leaves of the tree out front are beginning to fall. Soon the green garden will be brown again.
But that, too, will not last. The wistful sadness of aging is also its great gift: life is short. Seasons are short. Snow will be here before we know it, and then spring will come hurtling back to us again. Time passes quickly. Our hard times are as fleeting as our days of ease. Many seasons have come and gone, and this one will, too.
Good-bye, my hummers, whenever it is that you are leaving. You know more about the seasons than I will ever know.