Decades ago, the poet T.S. Eliot told us April was the cruelest month. For years, I’ve accepted his word on this without question. After all, her weather is a bit more than schizophrenic, switching from balmy spring breezes to stinging ice pellets in a matter of hours.
After this past Saturday, I’m thinking September may beat my birth month out for this title. How do we go from stunning 90 degree temps one week, late summer blooms, happy butterflies and jewel-toned hummingbirds fattening themselves on autumn –tinged nectar to curled and blackened leaves and no lovely creatures flitting from one blossom to another overnight?
In less than a fortnight during early September, Mother Nature switched gears on her big and little darlings. Humans replaced shorts and t-shirts with slacks and sweaters. Some turned on furnaces to burn off that early morning chill caused by temperatures in the 30s. Unfortunately, birds and insects caught mid-migration didn’t have the same options people had to adapt to this harsh change.
Within 24 hours, weather that had provided a lush fall banquet for flying creatures sent any still moving to fly south as fast as their wings could carry them. Unfortunately, some were either too busy eating to pay attention to the shift in the barometer, or they just didn’t get going fast enough. I don’t know the answer. However, after that tomato-killing frost, I saw monarchs with wings like stained glass windows frozen to death, their bodies flattened on the ground beneath their last perches.
Recent autumns have spoiled me into believing the first frost wouldn’t come until after the beginning of October. Though I’d noticed a slow-down and smaller sizes in tomato production, I assumed we had at least a month before we had to worry about Jack Frost swooping into our yard with his chilling crystals. I was sure the Weather Channel frost advisories were just apocalyptic hype sometimes promoted by the media because it draws ratings. Even my husband, who reads weather better than most, thought the meteorologists were crying wolf.
While covering my tomatoes might have lengthened their season by a couple of weeks, nothing I could have done would have saved either the two little hummers frequenting our plastic feeders or the butterflies still flitting from one zinnia or cosmos blossom to another where they extended their curling tongues to taste one last bit of Kansas summer.
Fall is a still my favorite season, but Mother Nature has put me on notice that I can’t count on enjoying weeks and weeks of bird and butterfly watching. I’m wondering how long we have before we see only stark skeletons of once fully dressed trees. She may also be telling me that this winter will be a bit rougher than those in the past were. Perhaps I better prepare better for this and stock up on sunflower seeds and suet blocks to feed overwintering birds.