I begin the day with a glance out my bedroom window to take measure of the present degree of voraciousness of “my” wild birds and small rodents. When I note that all four of the bird feeders are empty after a mere day and a half, I slump in defeat.
I don’t even know why I should have been hopeful; yesterday, too, began with distressing evidence of looting à la Peter Rabbit. I now have good reason to suspect either rabbits or voles (yes, that’s right — voles, mutualistic brethren of the mole) as the perpetrators who decimated in one day all the early spring growth of my newest perennials. Either way — rabbit or vole — my joyful anticipation of pinks, purples, and yellows has been scotched by an as-yet unidentified marauding vegetarian under the cover of darkness.
While I bemoaned my loss, muttering personally satisfying things like little fuckers, Bowie exploited my inattention by hopping up onto one of my raised beds and digging up a corner’s worth of fall-planted garlic. Fortunately for him, he knew to spit it out; unfortunately for me, the garlic he got was in minced form.)
With regard to the bird feeders, I lack the energy to single out any one culprit — like a mother with too many children or a teacher on a Friday afternoon, it’s much simpler to hold the entire brood responsible. I rap on the window and issue an appropriately captious barb. A handful of foraging juncos takes immediate flight, as does a cardinal. Following their lead is a chickadee; zipping in a tight arc to land higher up in the spruce tree, the stalwart little warrior no doubt is countering with his own retort. He always has the last word. It takes me opening the window and smacking the siding with my open palm to get a response from the faction of squawky redwing blackbirds. They’re slow to clear out, and their abrasive utterances fade even more gradually.
It all has me remembering conversations I used to have when my father-in-law was alive. Knowing how much of a rule follower I was, he took pleasure in scandalizing me with stories of his youth in which he flouted authority. No doubt his tenth grade teachers broke into jubilant jitterbug gyrations the day he announced — for real this time — I’m never coming back. And he didn’t. Long before he made his consequential declaration, however, “Big George” was abrading what he deemed society’s suffocating strictures. He was forever “muckling” things, like cigarettes and “adult” magazines from various of the City of Lynn’s corner stores, unsupervised wine at St. Mary’s where he was an altar boy, occasional slugs from his father’s bottles of scotch.
“Muckle” was one of his favorite things to do. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never been able to assay the veracity of this word that was so important to my father-in-law, even though its meaning was clear to me from its earliest usage. Big George always said it with such gusto — the word would nigh detonate from the side of his mouth, riding across a loose bed of gravel. His eyes bespoke the remembered pleasure of the act.
I lean back inside, muttering my unoriginal little fuckers. Right now, they’re all little fuckers — the rabbits, the deer (don’t even get me started!), the voles, the moles, the squirrels and chipmunks, the blackbirds. I like the juncos and chickadees and cardinals. They play by the rules, so I don’t assign them to the depraved Pack of Pilferers and Irritants.
At day’s end, as I coax my brain to float drowsily upon pre-slumber thoughts, I ponder the possible exploits of tonight’s creatures. Will the skunks be competing with the moles, raking the ground for grubs (they’re more plentiful this year now that I suspended my lawn service)? Will the rabbits shift their frisking about and foraging to another part of the yard, freezing — as ever — at the first sign of nocturnal predation?
Does everyone yearn for a personal oasis, I wonder. Even city dwellers with room enough only for a pot or two. . . of geraniums? Fountain grass? I’m daunted by the challenges that landscape and vegetable gardening brings. Truth be told, homeownership in general. Despite (by and large) a lifetime of rural living, it doesn’t come naturally to me. Most days I feel as if I’m engaged in a nonstop game of Whac-a-mole (befittingly), one in which I’m perpetually losing. There’s something reassuring about the madness, however. If I woke up tomorrow and failed to discern signs of plunder or strained my ears, hearing nothing but silence suggestive of abandonment by the opposition; the kinetic deprivation could be read as a chilling omen. . . existentially.
Before I spiral too deeply into apocalyptic thought, I’ll pull back in order to reflect on the upside of all this earnest pursuit to have our needs met. You know, the whole food chain thing. The circle of life. Granted, when my remedies result in me spending gobs of money on things like neem oil (to keep insects from destroying my cabbage and lettuce plants), chicken wire (to block rabbit devastation of just about every plant. . . except garlic), high fencing (to keep deer out), compost, fertilizer, trichlorfon (to kill grubs), etc., not only does it make me much poorer in the wallet, but it has a way of forcing me to cast a sobering look at what all I’m doing. Is that sweet, delicious tomato really worth the small fortune of investment? (Last September I would have answered with a resounding, yes!) And, aren’t I just tipping my hand and showing my arrogance when I say, You, cutie pie chickadee, and you, junco, are okay; you can occupy “my space”. But you, chonky squirrel, and you, clacky blackbird, are not welcome?
Besides which, rivalry is good. It keeps us on our toes. Bring it! I say.