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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The paradox of wildlife gardening

The point of gardening for wildlife is to attract critters, but we would like for them to leave us enough attractive plants for our gardens to be recognizably gardens, right? Given that those of us in town have yards visible to neighbors and passersby, a certain aesthetic acceptability is expected (though how Andrew Jackson Downing managed to convince people in the 19th century that large expanses of alien turfgrass constituted a democratic American--and therefore moral--landscape has always confused me). The lawn-haters among us therefore tend to plant things that bloom or have interesting foliage. The wildlife gardeners among us hope to see lots of birds, butterflies, and small mammals.

Therein lies a paradox: the Great North American Deer Herd loves young foliage and flowers. In our area, they eat not only recognized "deer candy" like hostas and tulips but supposedly deer-resistant plants like purple coneflower and hairy-leaved rudbeckia. Daylilies supposedly protected by deer-repellent sprays have been munched to the ground, generally a day or so before the first bud opens. (Once-blooming varieties are especially preferred.) Our deer have even been known to eat the thorny stems of old roses. Our landscaping has evolved toward what I call the Three P's--the poisonous, the prickly, and the pungent--but I spend at least one morning a week shoveling up deer poop for the compost pile and plotting new strategies to discourage the deer from visiting quite so often. (They do have an entire city wildlife refuge only a few blocks away.)

One evening about dusk, one of the largest does I've ever seen was wandering about the front yard, provoking great consternation among the cat population watching out the front window. Luckily for me, the recently-sprayed plants were remaining unmunched, but I attempted to shoo her away, anyway.

She wasn't having any of my attempts at deer removal. I walked, I waved my arms, I made loud threatening noises. She looked at me. Eventually, she sauntered over to the neighbor's yard and stood gazing calmly in the general direction of the annoying human. A little later, she wandered off toward the nearby golf course.

The next morning found me scrubbing the birdbath at the edge of the backyard meadow garden bed, an activity requiring a brush, a hose, and fairly high water pressure as our birdbath seems to start growing algae approximately twenty minutes after its last scrubbing. As the water jet splattered off in all directions, I heard an explosive sound not related to the liquid coming from the hose and looked up to see a fawn bounding out of the mini-meadow, where it had evidently hidden itself between the switchgrass and the asters. Who doesn't like fawns? Who doesn't feel bad for disturbing them?

Alas, fawns are deer. Now I know why the previous evening's doe had no desire to leave our yard. The fawn has not been sighted again, but as the mini-meadow expands, there will probably be more baby Bambis in our future. Sigh.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Lessons of Powerlessness

Well, power was restored at Little Ranch in the Mid-Ohio Valley after only twenty-three hours, and no real harm was done, though the bread dough rising in the bread machine had to be rescued, patted out (my rolling pin having somehow vanished in the last move), and turned into skillet-browned flatbread. Edible, but not particularly good. Still, the Summer Storm of 2012 (and looking at the weather predictions, I am hoping that this is the only storm deserving of capital letters and its own name this year) brought a lull in the normal routine, and allowed a little more time for reflection than is generally found (or taken, maybe?) in my day.

Lesson #1 was the realization of how much time I spend on the internet. Given that one of the first things I do each morning is fire up the computer, a morning with no possibility of going online (we have dumb phones with no data plans) meant that other possibilities had to be explored. We made coffee by heating water on the  gas stove and treating it like loose-leaf tea (being among the uncultivated masses who do not yet own a French press); the results were acceptable,  and we sat on the porch drinking it in the company of cats to the accompaniment of birdsong. Not a bad hour.

Lesson #2 was the fragility of our communications networks. Our particular cellphone company's service went in and out all day, mostly out, and we were not alone. This would not have been a problem, except that an elderly relative had had to be hospitalized during the storm the night before in a neighboring town. We had spent several hours there getting her settled but came home around 1:00 AM--only to realize that neither of us had enough gas in our cars to make another round trip. With no landline and only intermittent cell service, we were unable to keep as close tabs on the situation as we would normally have done.

Lesson #3 was the fragility of our fossil-fueled transportation system. With no electricity, no fuel purveyors in our immediate area were able to sell their product, and the one station a few miles away that was able to operate experienced lines that stretched for miles and ran out of fuel mid-afternoon. When a few other stations re-opened in the evening, the wait time for fuel was generally an hour or more.

Lesson #4 was the delight of neighbors. Our block is friendly and outdoorsy, anyway, but people with no place to go spent even more time than usual chatting in the street, and there was an impromptu social gathering to grill the fish in people's freezers before it went bad. The people three doors up had more cell phone reception than the rest of us, so I was able to use their phone to check on the relative, who was doing fine and was safe in a (more or less, given the use of generator power) air-conditioned room. The afternoon also marked the first time in three years that I had been in this nearby home. We all had a pretty good day, despite sweating a little more than usual. .

Lesson #4 was that we are very lucky in our house. Despite the 100-degree-plus temperatures, the indoor temperature never climbed over 80--warm but totally bearable.

Lesson #5 was that nobody other than the humans much cared about our widespread weather disaster. The cats lazed in sunbeams on the porch as they usually do, and the squirrels and birds visited the feeders and trees and went about their noisy lives pretty much as they always do. The neighborhood dogs wanted to walk and play with their humans as they always do. Storm? What storm?

Lesson #6 was that we are not in control. Every so often, it is good to be reminded of this fact.