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The Race

I spent much of September watching the hummingbirds fight over sugar water. What a waste of energy, I thought.

The crickets have slowed their song now that the mornings have grown cool. I have replaced our summer coverlet with a down comforter. Bob and I are sleeping longer, nesting, waiting for the light to finger the edges of our bedroom blinds.

Later, I eye the sky on my way to the woods with a load of okra roots, hoping to get the tomato plants out and the lettuce starts in before those grey clouds let loose.

I picked eight and a half pounds of peppers the other day: heart-shaped pimentos, green shishitos, fat yellow bells, sleek Corno di Toros. Bob dug up ten pounds of sweet potatoes. There are about forty more pounds in the ground. We have not started harvesting ginger or peanuts, but we brought in sixteen pounds of edamame and eighteen pounds of winter squash.

Meanwhile, lab technicians are working around the clock to develop a Coronavirus vaccine, spurred on by $2 billion in government funding. Polling suggests between 50% and 75% of Americans will decline to take the vaccine when it comes out even though we are approaching 220,000 deaths. NC State University opened, then closed several weeks later.

The country is paralyzed by a nasty case of pre-election polarization. Many of us long for sane leadership while many believe they have found it. Some think the virus is an over-hyped construct. Others are out of work and mourning their dead. I feel like the American population has devolved into a cafeteria of plate-hurling youngsters, no authority in sight, medics removing the wounded on gurneys.

I spent much of September watching the hummingbirds fight over sugar water. What a waste of energy, I thought. They wouldn’t behave that way if they were herd animals. I closed my eyes and imagined zebras head-butting, rearing, and kicking over each tuft of dry grass. Maybe the zebras would fight if it were one central tuft rather than an endless savannah. I remembered how hard the horses fought over their grain, remembered how it felt to blunder into the lethal pistons of a red gelding’s shod hind feet at feeding time, and wake later on my back in the pasture, confused and alone.

Some mornings I lay in bed wishing humans were more like zebras than hummingbirds. I wonder if we are hard-wired to fight over resources or if we have out-populated our savannah. Did Stone Age tribes fight over tubers and carrion? Was aggression rewarded by obesity and power? I think about Polynesian royalty parading their calories, lording it over thin slaves and commoners, and I have my answer.

Survival of the fittest is a euphemism for greed. If I can rob you of calories, goods, and services, I should and I will. All the religion in the world isn’t going to fix our dark nature. This is why we need laws. And no one is above the law.

The drums are roaring now, difficult to ignore. I hear a newscaster say, “with 24 days to the election,” and it makes me swallow the wrong way. Turning off the radio, I try to concentrate on the Sweet Jemisons on my bamboo cutting board.

It seems silly to be racing the weather to plant more food when we’ve harvested so much, and when our future seems so uncertain. But I can’t stop. I have already planted garlic, carrots, collards, beets, and spinach, and now lettuce. The fava beans will be the last to go in. This is my way of carrying on. It’s a good distraction. I bury myself in peppers, sharpening my knives, and wait for the rain to water in the lettuce.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

4 replies on “The Race”

Could you send us rain? NM had no rain this season and tomorrow will be super windy.

The food greed thing also rears its not-so-ugly head in small communities where people share food they have and make sure that those who can’t afford it don’t go hungry by having a place to go and get free food. Grocery stores and over abundance in peoples’ gardens are donated there and although some of it may not be quality food (read: sweet breads, white bread, etc.), it could mean the difference between going hungry that night. More people should carve out a spot in their own yards or terraces to grow SOMETHING for themselves that they like. Even in the good ole US of A where you can simply just buy stuff at the store. You’re more inclined to not waste something that took weeks or months to grow yourself.

Thanks for that uplifting thought, Steph. St. Bart’s, a church in nearby Pittsboro, keeps a kitchen garden to support a weekly free community lunch. I noticed that they made a wood and wire mesh “free food” box outside their garden that anyone can take advantage of. You’ve inspired me to seek an outlet for my produce overload!

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