Absence

Often, the absence of something is felt as tangibly as its presence.

Anyone who has ever lost a loved one—two-legged or four—knows this. The silence when returning home or the space in a room previously occupied by their being feels loud and hollow. The empty void as weighty as their once physical presence—leaving regret for ever having taken our time with them for granted.

This spring, the garden was filled with swallowtails, painted ladies and cabbage butterflies.

Now, there are none.

Two weeks ago, the hummingbirds were so busy drinking from the Agastache that this one ultimately decided to pull up a seat at the bar and rest while feeding despite the annoyance of my camera.

Since then, there have been none.

The garden is full of flowers that attract birds, bees, and butterflies.

The bees are plentiful and enjoying their solitary feast,

but the hummingbirds and butterflies are noticeably absent.

It was an unusually long, wet and cool spring but in the late two weeks, it has been unusually hot—record-setting hot. Hummingbirds must feed all day to sustain themselves, but they avoid the heat and seek shaded shelter.

If the nights are too warm, they cannot recharge. The result can cause malnutrition and exhaustion.

I prefer to hope that they have found another, more abundant source of nectar and tiny insects to feed their growing young somewhere—but the suddenness of their disappearance is disturbing.

Butterflies depend on a succession of blooms from spring to summer.

When they come too early, their life cycle is disturbed—potentially irreparably.

Have we altered our planet so significantly that even the havens we have created are inhospitable?

“You think you can fix everything, change everything. But there will come a day when things cannot be fixed. And, you know what, it will be a day just like today”. ~ American Indian elder, quoted by Kent Nerburn.

The garden is still beautiful, but it is not the same without the flying friends who usually accompany it.

It is quiet. Ultimately, the garden depends on the pollination these winged wonders provide to ensure its longevity. And not just the garden – our food supply. Without the bees and birds and butterflies, nature is in jeopardy.

What legacy do we leave in our wake?

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” ~American Indian proverb

Dear hummers and butterflies,

the flowers anxiously await your return…

as do I.

14 comments

  1. Mary Tonningsen

    Wow, this post made me very sad and concerned. I hope that they return. Thank you for the photos and the quotes – just lovely!

  2. Hoping they return to you. We have created a difficult world for non-humans. I’m glad your little haven is trying its hardest to provide sanctuary for the birds and butterflies and dogs of this world.

  3. I’m normally not at a loss for words, but I am at this moment. Your photos are stunning and point out the real loss we feel. I haven’t seen one butterfly this year so far, not one. I had a hummer visiting for maybe a week about four or five weeks ago. Since then, I have kept the feeder full, but there have been no visitors. Sad state of gardening affairs, but thank you for sharing your amazing hummer photos.

    • My photos mark their presence in the garden; even the bad ones that never get shared serve as a sort of garden journal. The decline seemed to have begun in 2016, but their total absence this year is too sad and a little scary. I hope they can adapt and return to us both.

  4. Carol Lobmeier

    This is so sad and scary. I hope they all come back very soon. I never see humming birds, but the butterflies are around. Not in abundance, but enough to be noticed. The pictures are beautiful and so is your garden.

  5. Beautiful pictures of the visitors we had in the garden. Sad to think we are losing our precious hummingbirds and butterflies. I have noticed the absence of birds in my home garden too. At least you know you are doing what you can to help these small creatures by supplying the nectar in the Homeward Bound Memorial garden

  6. Lovely photos! We still have plenty of bees and some butterflies, but I rarely see hummingbirds. We do have cardinals, titmouse, chickadees, and other wild birds though. And of course plenty of squirrels to keep Ducky busy.

  7. Wonderful photos and stirring, if not a little unsettling, quotes. I wonder, too! We had the same heatwave in SoCal and our hummingbirds and butterflies are still fairly abundant, so I also wonder what disturbed them. I think some pattern must have been disrupted and they’ll be back! I think we gardener/nature lovers have become so attuned to the inhospitable impact of climate change and habitat disruption that we may not have noticed previous periods of shift and change. We observe everything so carefully these days! Just a thought! I’m grasping at hope here! Your garden is much too beautiful to NOT be a haven for these pollinators. Let us know when they return, please!

  8. Ina Glusen Tompkins

    Yes, this does seem quite unnerving! I do recall, just a few years ago, having noticed that here, in our Folsom neighborhood, the hummingbirds disappeard for several weeks – then – somehow, returned to their normal numbers, before too long. Never really learned why, but was most happy to see them return.

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