I am filthy, sore and hot. This day has been long. I actually know what day of the week it is, but usually, for all practical purposes, they are mostly interchangeable. An unfortunate task separated this one from the others. My daughter and son-in-law had concluded, after long deliberation, that it was time to euthanize one of their Boston Terriers, Radar, the younger of their two dogs. Age and its incumbent problems had caught up with him as it does with everyone. This was a tough one for them, as these two pups were my son-in-law’s first pets. And although my daughter had lived through the losses of our family animals, this was her first as the primary owner. My job was to take care of my two young grandsons while their parents took the dog to the vet for the always heart wrenching goodbye.
Long before the quarantine, I’ve had an erratic sleep schedule, to put it mildly. Over the years since Michael got sick, sleeping more than a few consecutive hours has been a challenge. In addition, going to bed as dawn approaches is all too common for me. Going to pick up the boys at 7:45 am brought me back into a lost time frame of a life I left behind long ago, when my days were structured, and I spent more of them experiencing active mornings. I took the littles for a car picnic, a time when they get to eat their pancakes and hash browns in their seats while we chat. They were both sad but the resilience of being kids was evident as they processed our conversation and prepared to move on. After reuniting them with their parents, there I was, wide awake and ready for action, hours ahead of my usual random schedule. There’s nothing like gardening to rejuvenating a life-affirming feeling, so I headed over to my favorite nursery which is one of the few open retail spaces that’s nicely set up for the social distancing and other safe practices needed during this virus time. Because of the early hour, the place wasn’t crowded and I had plenty of time to choose my plants. I hurried home, flowing with ambition, ready to plant, weed and perform all the chores a big garden requires. I would shove away the dog death with my physical energy. But when I arrived in my yard, I found a crew of destructive vermin – read : squirrels and rabbits.
The squirrels really run the show around here. They routinely attack my bird feeders and garbage cans, chewing through dauntingly thick plastic to forage for treats. I’ve tried every primarily benign deterrent to keep them contained, and have given plenty of thought to those methods a little less gentle. The squirrel featured above has taken to lounging every morning on my kids’ former climbing structure, which is now used to house both climbing vines and potted plants. I’m sure that little rat with a tail is simply exhausted from its herculean efforts to tip my feeders, so half the birdseed falls to the ground where the rapid ingestion occurs. Anyone would need a rest after that. Note the suspicious, irritated expression on its face as I have the audacity to interrupt its meditative moment. All that carb loading couldn’t offset the energy it expended in trying to break through my pitiful attempts to save the suet for the birds. After hurling a metal suet feeder hanger to the ground, it was simply too spent to undo the safety pins and clamps I’m currently employing to prevent rodent theft. Maybe another day.
And I mentioned the rabbits. These innocent-looking bunnies with their white fluffy tails and their radar-like ears spinning in endless circles are beginning to resemble Volkswagon beetles in size. What is hardest for me to understand about this body expansion is that for the most part, they seem more interested in defoliation than consumption. They deal in wanton wreckage. They shred everything and leave the evidence. A real in-your-face set of defiant actions.
They freeze when I come out the door before spritely hopping away, knowing with certainty they’ll be returning as soon as I disappear. Recently, I’ve been digging up one of my most miserable mistakes, a lovely, (for at least two weeks), but totally invasive plant called spiderwort that has been steadily marching across my entire yard, growing a complex root system that is backbreaking to wrench from the ground. I’ll admit I took an evil delight in noting that the rabbits had at the fruits of my labor, but gave up carrying away the heavy clumps. Ha, I thought. They’re not so tough. I know it was them because nearby, I found a denuded bee balm plant that had yet to make it into the soil.
I know I shouldn’t complain. I believe that we arrogant humans have absconded with so much of the natural world, twisting it into what’s suitable for our own uses. We’ve changed so much that animals live in an out-of-balance world. My garden has encroached on the wild. There are no natural predators to control the populations of what I see as pests. Sometimes when I pull into my driveway, and see all the creatures busily living their lives, I feel like the invader. Their turf, not mine. Not really. As time slips away so quickly, I’m keenly aware that I’m sometimes living above my physical pay grade. Six hours outside, digging, hacking, twisting and bending require a lot more recovery time than they once did. I’m gardening defensively right now. Trying to create a haven for wildlife that remains somewhat static so I don’t age out of my ability to care for it. Long ago, we wrested this land back from years of neglect. The idea of having it slide back to what that was is hard to contemplate. But who am I kidding? Isn’t that really the way of all things? As Radar, once a frolicking lively pup ran out his string this Friday morning, eventually so will I. I should lighten up a bit and stop hurling myself at certain inevitabilities. Ah, but that’s easier said than done. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to shove past all life’s obstacles, inevitable or not. And as the saying goes, old habits die hard.
So far, I have a lot to be grateful for, like my vigor as I approach seventy. My sturdy peasant stock heritage hasn’t faded yet. My garden is beautiful, despite those critters who are in my way. I get the avian visitors I love, and I watch them go through their mating dances, splash in my bird baths and nurture the next generation in the shelters I’ve provided for them.
I’ve begun to see the bees and butterflies which need their supportive spaces to survive. Some of them already look bedraggled. As my plants begin to reach their full flowering states, I hope to supply their nutritional needs well into the fall, as I’ve done in recent years.
Sometimes it’s good to pull back from my personal space, to just go and appreciate the natural world that requires nothing from me other than respect. In the last few weeks of Michael’s life, our world was very tiny. Aside from trips to the hospital for treatment, we were primarily housebound which was so different from how we’d lived our lives. A community improvement project to manage a previously dirty and foul creek had become a little haven for us, close to home but with such a different and relaxed affect than the medical world or our own four walls. We went there during his treatments, with our family and alone together, many times, for the comfort of nature.
So I went back there myself to walk around, observe the animals and the insects, and to set down the load of sadness, of work, of worry about things I can’t do much about at this point. I don’t know what’s ahead for me, despite all my efforts to be prepared for anything. Watching these gorgeous dragonflies called common whitetails skitter feverishly through the air, while a large turtle, true to its reputation for lack of speed, languidly slid through the water, while geese families and ducks sprawled on the sidewalks, was so soothing. The sound of rushing water helped too, as right now, all pools in my area are closed down, leaving me sorely missing the endorphin release I feel every time I’m submerged.
The nature of this Friday, and actually every day. Death, life and all that lies between them. Good to remember and acknowledge as I navigate this section of my life.