Out in the pollinator garden, the season of plenty has given way to the season of competition as ruby-throated hummingbirds bulk up for the coming migration, goldfinches stuff themselves with flower seeds against a lean winter, and insects squeeze in one more round of procreation before the daylight shortens and the cold creeps in. All day long the hummingbird who has claimed my feeder tries to drive away the goldfinches, and the goldfinches try to drive away the bumblebees, and the bees try to drive away the smaller butterflies and skippers. (No one tries to drive away the red wasp.)
I’ve been worried about our resident pair of cardinals. This year, they lost one set of nestlings to illness and another set to predators, but they’ve started showing up at the safflower feeder with two healthy fledglings. The young ones follow them around the yard, hollering, and the parents work from sunup to full night feeding them and simultaneously explaining to the house finch family, over and over again, that the safflower feeder is now off limits to everyone but juvenile cardinals. When I put mealworms out for the bluebirds, I have to sit nearby while they eat, or the male cardinal—in the middle of his August molt and now ragged and comically bald—will dive at them from the branches like a tiny strategic bomber. This half-acre lot belongs to him, even if the bluebirds and the house finches won’t acknowledge that fact.
Because we have been spared this year our usual late-summer drought, there is still plenty to go around—plenty of flowers, plenty of seeds, plenty of bugs—but the creatures in my yard are not interested in sharing. For them scarcity is no different from fear of scarcity. A real threat and an imagined threat provoke the same response. Hard not to think there’s a metaphor in that.