A heart-shaped box of chocolates on Dyer hill

What could possibly become of a cold winter’s day, one impossibly large hill and a frozen box of chocolates?

When you’re 13 years old and you stare down Dyer hill, the snow still falling, your gloved hands wrapped around the sharp metal blades of your wooden sled, your heart is going to race.

Five slippery steps on the thin white powder, the ice-covered blacktop lurking below, then throwing the Western Auto Flexible Flyer out before you, the thump of your chest landing on the wood and then speeding head-first into a cold wall of winter.

Before you leap, you sneak a peek.

The girl with the freckles, the one who can throw a football farther than any boy and run just as fast, is watching. You begged your mother for the $5 bill and then read card after card until finding the Valentine that was just right – not too mushy, not too dorky – and the heart-shaped box of chocolates that you plan to leave in her mailbox when darkness descends.

Her blue eyes sparkle, the red scarf dotted with flakes of white to warm her lips, and your heart races and you run and you run and then you leap.

Editor’s Note: “A Heart-Shaped Box of Chocolates” stems from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were challenged to write a bit of flash fiction, no longer than six sentences, detailing a season and a moment during that season.

My love of grass

Fat Tuesday has me hungry for fine fescue

The lawn at Woodbend on a late April afternoon. Photo by Michael Banks

Most just shake their head and walk away. “No, no, no.”In fact, they are so adverse they’ll suddenly stop and turn, telling me their disdain is so great “I pay $50 every two weeks just so I don’t have to do it.”

They cannot comprehend my love of mowing my grass.

There’s something about sitting astride the bright green John Deere and hearing the motor catch when you turn the ignition. The slight shudder as the sharpened steel blade engages, in its wake the spring smell of fresh-cut fescue.

Maybe it’s about being in control. I follow the same path, a geometric pattern created some 15 summers past, only altered when the red buds grew tall and the azaleas wide and heavy with their showy whites and strawberry reds. My blade sweeps once and then again, shearing the blades to within 4 inches of the brown soil. Not 3 inches. Not 3 ½. But 4.

As with any love, there are tests. In the late summer heat, the sweat runs from your brow and you taste it on your lips. A cloud of red clay dust often blows, my Deere now brown, and the shards of crabgrass cling to my exposed ankles.

Yet, I sit and mow. Horizontal then diagonal. Always staying within the lines.

And on a Mardi Gras Tuesday, a day after thunder rumbled, lightning cracked and the rains fell, there is a ray of sun dancing upon my window frame. Beyond I see the clover and chickweed green and spreading, the fescue tall and waving in a cold wind.

I think of spring and my Deere.

And there is comfort in that.  

Editor’s Note: “My Love of Grass” stems from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were challenged to write of a love that is often neglected, a quieter love we all crave for comfort. We were told to focus on the concrete, grounded in actions and sensations, to bring the reader right there so they can feel the love first-hand.

Beanee Weenees in the parking lot

They’ve met for a year in the vacant parking lot. He’s always brought Beanee Weenees. She’s so tired of Beanee Weenees.

Editor’s Note: The following is an example of flash fiction stemming from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were given an example of flash fiction and encouraged to write from what inspires us.

The car door creaked and groaned as a 15-year-old Buick tends to do when he opened and closed the door. From the yellow plastic bag, he pulled forth a dented cup of Beanee Weanies. He smiled as if he was handing her a handful of sapphires. 

Sure, she likes the taste of hot dog chunks and gravy and beans. Her mistake was in telling him. Since that first time they agreed to meet in the back corner of the vacant Food Lion parking lot, it’s always been Beanee Weenees. For 30 minutes, they’ll sit in the Buick and hold hands. She’ll slurp and listen as he talks of tomorrow.

She’s so tired of Beanee Weenees. 

Today is exactly one year after their first lunch date. The box holding the ring holding the quarter carat feels heavy in his pocket. When, he wonders. He decides definitely after she’s had her Beanee Weenees.

Tripping with death high above the Barren River

Ride along on a trip to the “locks” with a pocketful of ‘shrooms.

The following is a short piece of fiction stemming from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We writers were asked to recall a “near death” experience of our own––or imagine one for a fictional character––and describe the setting with as much sensory detail as possible

Tripping with death above the Barren River

The Barren River runs fast here, slicing through the forested green gorge, its metallic blue waters dotted with white outcroppings of rock, like a lost field of mushrooms dropped down among the foothills of western Kentucky.

College students come here where the river plunges 20 feet over the falls, the mist from where the waters splash off the limestone below creating cool wet clouds that rise and hover, leaving tiny wet droplets on your tanned skin. 

Seeking space from exams and empty wallets, 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds come to the Locks to sip cherry hooch mixed with pure grain alcohol and trip on shrooms. Those wise know to keep one in your group moderately sober as a trip to the Locks requires traversing a one-car-wide path that splits a sheer grey wall of granite and a dizzying drop of some 40 feet to the river below.

And it is here, 45 degrees vertical on that thin ribbon of road, where JD has decided to stop his hand-me-down hatchback. He needs to piss and it won’t wait until we reach level ground. 

I sit in the back seat alongside Adelphi and we tip our beer cans together. “Cheers, mate.” He giggles. I’m quite certain he gobbled most of the pocketful of shrooms JD carried and in his altered mind he’s anywhere but perched in a Pinto on the side of a cliff waiting on his driver, who is still visible through the front window, a yellow stream now snaking its way between JD’s legs, carving a path in the dry, dusty gravel. 

I glance out the open window and look down. It’s a straight shot, save for a few stubborn scraggly pines, to where the river runs clear below. I can smell the mist and hear the river hissing as it starts to run fast near the lip of the falls. I’ve never been one for heights. A boyhood trip up the St. Louis Arch left me light-headed and queasy and my back pressed against a carpeted wall, the people below a speck of tiny black dots moving hastily like worker ants serving a queen. 

Adelphi giggles some more and takes a long sip from his beer.

“Fuck it,” he says, leaning forward and over the front seat. As if in slow motion, I watch Adelphi as he shifts the gear stick into neutral and, giggling again, flops back, landing partly atop me, his beer spilling onto my jeans. There’s the smell of warm hops and a sudden lurch in my stomach as I feel gravity grab hold of the Pinto and we start to slowly move downhill.

Hearing the crunch of tires on gravel, JD has turned around, his hand still around his pecker and a look of curiosity upon his face as he tries to ponder how his one piece of tangible party has slipped into gear and is steadily moving backwards toward where the road bends, a literal dropping-off point.

“We’re moving, man, we’re moving!” Adelphi shouts out, reaching up to the top of the brown felt roof, his hands rhythmically smacking again and again, seeking out whatever unicorns or demons are filling his head space.

“We’re moving, man, we’re moving.”

Adelphi

I feel my own fingers digging in between the cushions, thinking a seat belt strapped around my waist is going to do me some good when that Pinto plummets backward off the cliff, smacks three pines on its way down and ends up, roof down, wedged between two big boulders, water streaming in and me stuck in place with my seat belt. Instead, my hands pull out a months-old peppermint and three years’ worth of brown, sticky lint.

My eyes remain on the front window, focused on JD, who has now taken on the form of a hermit crab, his legs askew, jeans still unzipped, pecker flopping, as his pudgy arms try to keep pace with his even fatter legs. He runs for his Pinto, its back bumper bouncing us off the wall of granite like the shiny silver ball ricocheting off the bumpers on the pinball machine I used to pump quarters into on Sunday mornings between Sunday school and worship service. Seems like years ago.

Game literally over, I think, surprising myself in the clarity and calmness of how one accepts one’s demise. My hands grip the headrest in front of me and I push my spine farther into the back seat cushion, readying for the free flight, bracing for the bone-jarring impact. 

“It’s beautiful,” Adelphi says, linking his arm around my bicep, pulling himself close. He leans his head back and lets loose with some Skynyrd in the sweetest harmony I’ve heard. And there, in that moment, I realize I’ve never known Adelphi to sing. 

“If I leave here tomorrow

Would you still remember me”

I’m fine with dying, I say to myself, and close my eyes. If it must be like this, then it’s gonna be.

“For I must be traveling on, now

‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see”

I savor the air that enters my mouth and fills my lungs, counting each breath. One… two…. I can taste the river on my tongue now, the wetness and cold awaiting. I hear the spring breeze whistling through the pines and I think of dead doves.

One breath. Exhale. Two breaths. Exhale.

“My father, who art in heaven,” I mumble, my mind in a jumble, trying to remember the words.

Adelphi now in full chorus.

“Cause I’m as free as a bird now

And this bird you cannot chaaaannnngggggeeeeeee”

The car lurches and our heads snap back and then forward, my forehead smacking the head rest, my fingers white, clenched in the foam.

I later come to find out that JD, that sweet, plump, slow-moving snail, had somehow managed to catch up with the Pinto and then wedged himself inside the open door and thrown his body into the driver’s side floorboard, his hands slamming down on the brake pedal, the Pinto’s back bumper hanging off the edge.

For a few moments we sit there in silence. The river still hisses below, almost like it’s angry, mad that it’s missed out on its allotment of drunk, foolhardy, teenagers. The spring breeze still blows and I feel it enter the open window, cool on my face that’s wet with sweat.

Adelphi breaks the silence. “Glorious day, dude.”

JD sits upright, closes the door and turns the ignition. The Pinto finally catches, slips into gear and then climbs, in its wake just dust and the river waters that run through the rocks and cascade down.

The last toast

A man chooses to stop drinking. What gets left behind, what is lost?

The following is a short piece of fiction stemming from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. On the eve of the presidential inauguration, the prompt was to examine what ends when something new begins? What gets lost, what gets left behind?

The Last Toast

Today is the day I stop drinking.

Seven words skewered in pencil on the back of an overdue electric bill from the City of Decatur.

The words a promise I’d made to myself some six hours earlier. Now the empty fifth of Kentucky Tavern on its side, a small pool of the brown elixir lingering in the glass on the nightstand, a remnant of the night before.

There’s a momentary urge to bring the cool glass to my lips to feel the burn of the whiskey as it hits my tongue, that sensory overload only topped by the feeling of warmth that spreads through my torso.

I’ll miss it. 

We had our falling outs, particularly that DWI three years back and those hungover mornings where I lay curled in bed instead of cutting wood. And, of course, there’s Rebecca. She said I loved the drink more than her.

For a while now, it’s been just me and the whiskey. And, for a while now, that’s been just fine.

Oh, we had our fun. 

That first sip when I was 14, the bottle passed from my daddy as we sat on the tailgate of the pickup truck waiting for the doves to rise from the brush. My welcome to manhood moment.

That late summer night down in the back woods of the Chattahoochee, three dates in with Rebecca, sharing the pint in the back seat of my Pinto, that hot spice sticking to my tongue, my lips numb.

Plenty of graduation celebrations, keg parties, afterwork socials, snips on lunch breaks, morning pick-me-ups, afternoon get-me-throughs.

We became good friends. Maybe too good of friends.

Comes a time when a man’s got to do what he thinks is best for him. And for me, that’s leaving you, whiskey.

Don’t you come knocking again on my door.

Please. 

Corner of Elm and Second

He sees her every day at the corner of Elm and Second.

The following is the result of a writing prompt as part of the Pen to Paper Live sessions hosted each week by the Charlotte Lit organization. The sessions are free and held Tuesday mornings. You can register here.

Corner of Elm and Second

She never disappoints. She’s always there.

The U.S. Postal Service may well splash the words “through rain, sleet, hell or high water” the mail must go through. But in my world, it’s the lady on the porch who is as constant as the sun rising and the sun setting.

She’s there at the corner of Elm and Second streets, her house sitting perpendicular to the stop light that always seems to catch me, a road block to my morning rush.

I usually curse, looking at the dash, the clock showing me I’ve got 3 minutes to get somewhere that’s going to take me at least 15. And I sit. One hand fast-tapping a rhythmic beat on the steering wheel, keeping time with the wasted seconds, the other pushing the buttons on the radio, pulsing, rock music filling the cab of my 15-year-old Honda. 

I glance over and she’s there, often in a faded aqua blue house dress, her hair pulled tight in a severe bun, her gaze forward, where to I have no idea. In her wooden rocker, she methodically rises and falls, her feet flexing, hands and fingers still, except for a slight startle when a horn from the impatient driver of the black Suburban behind me sounds. 

It’s funny that I think of her when my boss hands me my pink slip later that day. “I warned you,” she says, watching as I clear my desk, tossing a calendar from the year before into a small box of my meager belongings. “You’ve got to show up to work on time.”

I think of the woman on the porch. And of time.

And I know that tonight when I inevitably stop at that intersection, there at the corner of Elm and Second, she’ll be there.  And I wonder if I will raise my hand and wave.

For there will be time.

The gift of the glove

What’s the promise of a new baseball glove bring? Characters from my work in progress “River Bottom” are unveiled in this latest writing exercise.

The following is the end product from a writing prompt as part of the Pen to Paper Live sessions hosted each week by the Charlotte Lit organization. The sessions are free and held Tuesday mornings. You can register here.

The Gift of the Glove

The smell may have been the first thing he noticed. The scent of rawhide leather escaped the package as he pulled the baseball glove from the box wrapped in red paper and green ribbon. 

Teague ran his fingers over the interlocking weave of leather, the stitches wound tight, strips of rawhide hanging loose like the leaves of the weeping willow that stood watch in the back corner over their 30-acre farm in the river bottoms.

The leather was stiff in his hands. Teague balled his hand into a fist and punched once, twice, three times into the pocket, seeking some give, yet the leather unforgiving. He knew the warmth of spring and summer and the sweat from his hands would loosen the rawhide; the glove bending, conforming to Teague’s 15-year-old fingers.

For nearly five years now, he’d used his father’s hand-me-down when he and the other boys gathered to play ball on summer afternoons, swinging and sliding until the western sky turned a burnt orange, chasing them from the field. It was a battered, dusty glove that had been duct taped together and had seen its fair share of ball games back when his daddy would knock baseballs 350 feet over the old strip of coal mine belt serving as an outfield fence. 

“Figured it was time for your own,” Big Robbie had said when he slid the box across the kitchen table earlier that morning. It was just the two of them now. Rains had fallen that summer and the corn grew tall and green, but money was still tight.

Snow was on the ground now. The field bare except for the rotting husks that dotted the back 30 acres like remnants from a Civil War battlefield, the stalks like the limbs of Confederate dead. 

Spring would come. And with it, warmer days and the sound of song birds. The ground would be broken, the plow leaving streams of rich, loamy, black soil in its wake, and there would be work. Lots of it for the seed needs to reach the ground.

Yet, in those few short moments before day turns to dark and the sun sets below the Ohio, there would be time. Time for a game of catch between a boy and his father, the rhythmic pop of the baseball hitting the pocket of the glove marking the seconds, minutes and hours.

Editor’s Note: The passage includes characters and settings from “River Bottom,” my work-in-progress novel that tells a story of a teenage boy living along the Ohio River bottom land in the summer of 1983.

‘The Climb’ to Ruby Falls during a year that wasn’t

Is there a certain memory that has stuck out in 2020?
For myself, it was a grueling hike up a mountain in the South Carolina Upstate.

In a year dominated by the pandemic, most writers have opted to not write about the virus that has killed thousands and led to even more division in our country. The reason may be simply because most writers prefer to use writing as an escape, says Paul Reali, one of the co-founders of the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts organization.

“It’s particularly hard to write about the pandemic, especially when we’re sitting in the middle of it,” Reali said during a Tuesday, Dec. 15 Pen to Paper Live writing session, which is a weekly gathering where writers are given a mini-lesson and writing prompt. The sessions, which will resume in January 2021, are free and preregistration is required.

Writing can lead to revelation, Reali says, noting that “we write to make meaning.”

Sometimes a subject — such as Covid-19 and as he calls 2020 “the year that wasn’t” — may seem way too big to tackle, Reali says. It is those times when a writer must “chip away” and document those things one has witnessed and felt over the past 12 months. These pandemic experiences can be documented through short vignettes similar to the recollections told in the New York Times Metropolitan Diary.

As part of the Pen to Paper Live session, Reali encouraged the nine participants to write a moment from their pandemic experience. The following is my story.

The Climb

We stop halfway up the mountain. The air is thinning as we’ve climbed another 1,000 feet and our lungs are burning and our legs heavy. It’s a quiet Thanksgiving Day afternoon. If we listen closely, we can hear the Middle Saluda far below, its water weaving around and over boulders draped with green, clingy moss.

“Do we continue on or just turn around,” my wife asks. 

She is in much better shape than I and has always had more energy and spirit. In a lot of ways, I feed off of her and love her for that. But here and now, my ankles hurt and there is a gnawing tug along my muddied and bloodied right calf. I’m close to calling it quits.

There’s been job loss, death and multitude of change in 2020. We had decided to flee to nature as we considered how to give thanks in a year of Covid-19 and had mostly hiked the 4-mile trail at Jones Gap State Park alone. 

As we sit trying to capture our breath and lower our heart rate, we see two hikers carefully picking their way among rocks and tree roots on the narrow trail to and from Ruby Falls. They are much younger and hipper and the couple pulls up their neck gaiters as they near. 

We step back off the trail and we’re enclosed by the rhododendron and mountain laurel, a near disappearing act. They see us, husband and wife, hands held and maskless.

“You’re nearly there,” he says.

“Trust me,” she says, “it’s totally worth all the pain.”

After they pass, we stand on the trail. We look upward, a steep stair stepper of unforgiving rock awaiting.

“You lead. I’ll follow,” my wife says.

I look at her and smile. I turn and then we climb together.

Getting creative with Pen to Paper: Jelly and whiskey in the Mississippi Delta

Stuck in your creative work? Why not try Charlotte Lit’s Pen to Paper Live!
I ended up with “Jelly and Whiskey in the Mississippi Delta.”

Tuesday morning, Dec. 8, I took part in a Pen to Paper Live! creative program offered by the Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, commonly known as Charlotte Lit.

The free weekly sessions offer a mini-lesson and and present a writing prompt. Though I have been a member of Charlotte Lit and its Author’s Lab for the past year, this was the first opportunity I had to participate in one of the writing-in-community sessions, which are usually held in person but were moved online with the pandemic and social distancing restrictions. This one was attended by 14 other writers.

I thoroughly enjoyed the hour-long meet-up and would highly recommend it for those creative sorts who are currently uninspired or stuck. Preregistration is required. For this non-coffee-drinking guy who can sleepwalk through the hours before noon, Pen to Paper Live! gave me a spark and led to me writing this blog and continuing work on my novel.

This week’s session was on Cento. Kathie Collins, executive director and one of the founders of Charlotte Lit, led Tuesday’s session and came up with the writing prompt from a recent article in the New York Times. You can read the article to learn more, but basically Cento is a sort of “collage poem” crafted from lines, words, phrases from other sources and then patching together those lines to create a poem.

It’s a way of allowing you to express some subconscious needs through someone else’s work, Collins said. “Consider it another tool for your toolbox,” she said.

I am far from a poet, as the following selection will absolutely prove, but I did find it a fun, creative exercise. For my assignment, I chose to pull from the writings of author Hank Burdine and his story collection “Dust in the Road: Recollections of a Delta Boy.” The story “The ‘Britchesless’ Bachelor” is one of my favorites, especially hearing Hank read it in person with his Delta drawl and his deep baritone acquired via healthy amounts of good whiskey.

Below is my first attempt at Cento. Let’s call it:

Jelly and Whiskey in the Delta

White-coated valets and 15 blue-haired little ladies

Gather for sundry debutante parties in Beulah in the Delta

Me, a member of the Bachelor’s Club, a pool for the Delta Debs

Made haste to Dossett Plantation in my black two-door Pontiac Grand Prix 

I arrived in a hand-me-down tuxedo with cummerbund

Yet, about to pass out because my britches were too tight

My date, Blanche Shackleford, fled to the slough unencumbered

As the Budweiser had filled her holding tank, quite a site.

Meanwhile, my unhitched pants fell to my knees

And I’d forgotten to put my car in park

Blanche emerged from the slough and the trees, 

And so, Blanche gave chase, shaking and boogying

So fierce, her left bosom shimmied out of her dress

And there it remained, quivering like jelly.

“Blanche, my Gawd” the little ladies shouted

Upon which, she tucked it right back into the top of her gown

And I, on a quest to drink good whiskey

found Mr. Dixon Dossett where we told tall tales in his gunroom until dawn.

Compiled from “The Britchesless Batchelor.” A story from “Dust in the Road: Recollections of a Delta Boy” by Mississippi author Hank Burdine.

Flight of the hummingbirds

Hummingbirds travel great distances twice a year between the United States and Canada south to Mexico and other Central and South American locales.
One of their rest stops is a botanical garden in North Carolina.

North Carolina botanical garden a rest stop for the birds on their annual trips north and south

NOTE: An edited version of this story appeared in the Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, edition of The Gaston Gazette newspaper in Gastonia, NC.

Similar to a fisherman on the banks of the Catawba River, Keith Camburn patiently held his string taut Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, waiting to spring the trap and reel in the mighty beast weighing all of a dime.

Camburn, a Gastonia, NC, resident, and Michael Leonowicz, who makes his home in Charlotte, were two of those responsible for capturing hummingbirds at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden near Belmont, NC. They were each seated in chairs watching a feeder inside a cage, which was constantly circled by a gang of hummingbirds.

The task wasn’t as easy as it seemed. A hummingbird can reach a speed of up to 49 mph when it dives and beats its wings, on average, 53 times per second. So, it’s not like you’re catching a turtle.

“It’s like fishing,” said Leonowicz, who has been helping to band birds for the past 15 years. “The birds have gotten smarter.”

Mike Leonowicz and Keith Camburn work to secure another hummingbird as hummingbird researcher Susan Campbell collected, measured, weighed and banded hummingbirds Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on South New Hope Road.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

As of mid-morning Saturday, they’d captured five hummingbirds that had been delivered to researcher Susan Campbell, who identified and, with the skilled hands of a surgeon, had weighed, measured and applied bands to mark each of the birds.

“The habitat at the garden is excellent. There are plenty of things planted at the garden that are good hummingbird plants,” said Campbell, an Apex, NC, resident whose been holding the program at Stowe Botanical for the past 15 years.

Hummingbird researcher Susan Campbell collected, measured, weighed and banded hummingbirds Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

The hummingbird banding program, which was held Saturday and Sunday, is one of the most popular at the garden, usually attracting anywhere from 800 to 900 people, said Jim Hoffman, the interim executive director at Stowe Botanical.

Lake Wylie, SC, residents Eric and Allison Schaff are members of the garden and attended Saturday’s program with their sons, Noah, 14, and Benjamin, 9. Both brothers got to hold newly-banded hummingbirds in their hands before the birds flew off.

“I felt a very small vibrating because it was breathing,” Benjamin said. “I could see its eyes blinking. It was very neat.”

Hummingbird researcher Susan Campbell places a banded hummingbird in the hand of 4-year-old Aristotle Christopher on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on South New Hope Road.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Did you know?

The hummingbirds you see in your own garden may very well be repeat guests?

“It could very well be,” said Raleigh resident Steve Schultz, who was assisting Campbell during Saturday’s program. “They do have the ability to return to the same specific spot.”

Hummingbirds spend their winters in Mexico and South America, migrating to the United States each spring, where they’ll mate, build their nests and raise their young. In the fall, they return south.

Saturday at the garden, there was the rare experience of one of the birds they captured having already been banded. Schultz said the female bird, which was at least 3 years old, had likely been captured years ago at Stowe Botanical.

“That bird has flown to Central America and back, Central America and back. That bird’s got more frequent flyer miles than I do,” Schultz said. “This bird traveled thousands of miles. It’s amazing something that small can navigate that distance.”

A hummingbird flies about in front of the trap Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on South New Hope Road.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

When will you commonly see hummingbirds at your feeder?

The hummingbirds usually arrive in early April and most have departed by the end of September.

Daily, you’ll usually see them at the feeder when they get hungry, which is typically in the morning and evening. During the day, they’re often snacking on insects, such as the gnats that linger near crepe myrtles, Schultz said.

“One of the myths is that they just drink nectar. In fact, they’re fly catchers. They mostly eat insects, which makes sense because they need protein, especially when they’re nesting,” he said. “And during the day, there’s tons of insects out.”

Hummingbird researcher Susan Campbell collected, measured, weighed and banded hummingbirds Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Which hummingbird are you seeing?

Most likely, in this part of North Carolina, you are seeing a female ruby-throated hummingbird. The male will have the red marking on its throat. They don’t stick around as long as the female, who is tasked with maintaining a nest and raising the young.

“I’ve been helping here five years and I’ve never caught a male,” Camburn said. “They just do their stuff and take off.”

A hummingbird flies about Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

Nix the red?

Another helpful hint: Forego buying the red-dyed hummingbird mix at the store. Instead, make your own mixture with four parts of water to one part sugar. It’s much healthier for the birds and cheaper for the birder, Schultz said.

Keith Camburn keeps his eye on the trap Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. [Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]

How many different types of hummingbirds are there?

Camburn said he’s been “chasing birds” for the past 40 years.

“I’m trying to see all the hummingbirds in the world,” he said of a list that has expanded to include 345 different species. “It’s never going to happen but I got to try.”

He’s seen all 11 of the species recorded in North Carolina. Only 17 of the species have been spotted in the United States.

“When I moved here 30 years ago, there were two hummers in the state,” Camburn said. “Now, I’ve seen 11 species, which is just nuts. I’m guessing Susan banded just about all of them.”

A horticulture volunteer at the garden, which means doing a lot of weeding, trimming and planting, Camburn also has taken on filling and cleaning the five hummingbird feeders at the garden.

A hummingbird flies Saturday, August 1, 2020, at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden.
[Mike Hensdill/The Gaston Gazette]