From the Editor

I worry that August – splendid, scorching, whirlwind August, the month I love most of all – will race by as it always does.

Summer has settled in, the air thick with insects and thickets heavy with fruit, but the birds at my feeder don’t seem to care. Nuthatches, titmice, and catbirds whir and whiz and land unceasingly, enacting an aerial pecking order I can’t pretend to understand. But I do know that the woodpeckers prefer to dine alone, and that the skittish black-capped chickadees find strength not in size but in numbers. I know that the coupled-up cardinals treat every trip to the feeder like a romantic date – at least until the blue jays arrive, sharp-beaked and stern in their police caps, to shoo away the lovebirds.

There is a baffle attached to the feeder to keep the dozens of resident squirrels from stripping the buffet, but not once have I witnessed them attempting to steal the goods. “It’s because they live in a grocery store,” says my husband. That may well be true – especially this year, which a friend informs me is a good year for acorns, whatever that means – but the logic doesn’t seem to apply to the birds, nor to the chipmunks who scurry underneath to reap the benefits of messy eaters.

Perhaps they prefer takeout to meal prep. Don’t we all in whirring, whizzing, never-enough-hours-in-the-day, never-enough-days-at-the-beach August?

Recently I’ve taken to filling the feeder while wearing garden gloves, an overprotective and not scientifically based reaction to the news that a strain of avian influenza has likely reached the Island. Hundreds of shorebirds have so far been felled, including large numbers of shearwaters – remarkable offshore creatures who just weeks earlier embarked on a 7,000 mile journey from a small speck of sand in the south Atlantic, all for the chance to spend a summer in Vineyard waters.

So far, there has been no indication that songbird communities have been affected, nor that humans are at significant risk. So I keep the feeder up but don my PPE, much as I still wear a mask when venturing into August crowds for Morning Glory corn and Chilmark General Store pizza. “It’s about moderating risk,” I imagine the Audubon’s version of Dr. Fauci might say. Still, if I’m told to take down my feeder, I will comply.

The pandemic has changed me in more ways than I like to admit – I’m quieter now; more risk averse, more prone to imagine a conversation with a bird-scientist version of Dr. Fauci. The garden gloves are just one of the symptoms. Another is that I find myself worrying more often about things I can do little to change – gas prices and foreign wars and a government that keeps stripping the right rights and strengthening the wrong ones and thoughts and prayers that do nothing. I worry, too, about the things I can easily change, like whether I will make enough time to go swimming while the water is warm. Or whether I will remember to eat enough tomatoes and corn and bluefish before they’re gone. Or spend enough time counting the Perseid meteors from a darkened abandoned beach.

I worry that August – splendid, scorching, whirlwind August, the month I love most of all – will race by as it always does.

Yet the cardinals seem unbothered. Their only concern is that it is date night, the feeder is low, and their server seems distracted. They remind me that, come what may, summers on the Vineyard are short and sweet and beautiful.