E S S A Y A R C H I V E
"I T H I N K T H E R E I S A
"C O N F I D E N C E I S T H E
"E X P E C T N O T H I N G , L I V E
"L I F E I S S O
I watched our dog drink out of the birdbath the other day and shortly thereafter a squirrel ate sunflowers I had put into a birdfeeder. I noticed a mouse in the feeder recently as well, nibbling away.
In a perfect world, dogs would never drink out of birdbaths, or toilets for that matter. Not when they have a perfectly good water-bowl in the kitchen where they can drink in a civilized manner. Squirrels and mice would find food in the wild, not in the tameness of my backyard. They are wild animals after all.
Sparrows also flock to my feeders and ravage them. Sparrows are not really sparrows, but Weaver finches instead, and they were imported from another country. I see them as pests, not even birds, so I really do not want them in my feeder either. Pests are guests who do not know when to leave and eat you out of house and home.
The sparrows fight over the sunflower seeds, often spilling many of them onto the ground below. I wondered why there was a concentration of weeds under the birdfeeder until I looked closely and realized they were actually little sunflowers that had sprouted. The cycle of life happening, in an odd and unexpected sort of way.
It is different with the blue jays. They quickly take every peanut in the shell I put out for them. Their beauty is only exceeded by their rudeness. They squawk loudly when the peanuts are all gone. I wondered how they could eat them so quickly until I discovered peanuts when I dug up the front flower box. They take them, hide them in dirt and forget about them. Apparently, peanuts do not grow in Alberta.
Still speaking of pests, the mouse found the garbage can under the kitchen sink. Sunflower seeds are an only an appetizer in comparison to the smorgasbord it offers.
“Get a cat,” the man at the hardware store says, when I go to buy a mousetrap. I am not fond of cats so the choice of a cat over a mouse is not enticing. “Right,” I reply as I pick the most menacing mousetrap from the display rack.
Our dog would undoubtedly chase the cat around the house anyway. It would not have time to catch the mouse. The dog barks at the slightest provocation, as if it makes a difference in the world, but clearly not to a mouse.
I also discover that “mouse” in the singular form only exists in a perfect world. I caught six mice in rapid succession. The trap finally sits empty, a symbol of a small victory, represented by the red V emblazoned on the trap, an emblem of the brand. The mice have probably retreated to the birdfeeder, where they wait in line behind the squirrel and sparrows. And there is probably more than one squirrel too.
It would make a very good story for our granddaughters, who seem to like all animals. They have asked me to read, “There is a mouse in the house,” many times to them. This story would be a little different.
“There used to be mice in this house,” they would probably say, “but Grandpa killed them.” They have a way to telling the stories about me that make me a legend but are not the whole truth, which I guess is the substance of legend. I suppose I should have captured the mice and returned them to the wild but no mouse with a taste for kitchen garbage would ever stay there. Like bears. Thank God for small favors, even if they are mice.
There was a mouse living in one of the compost bins, but I think it left for better pickings in the kitchen. The contents of the bin simply dried out and fossilized, rather than rotting into rich loam like it is supposed to do. I assumed it would happen like magic. I guess not. Apparently composting requires some effort on my part. I much prefer magic.
Compost bins seem to be an attraction for animals. One of our past dogs used to snack on the contents. I sprinkled the compost bin with an industrial size bottle of Tabasco sauce, thinking that would be a deterrent. After a brief recoiling, I guess just from surprise, she was back at it again, with a renewed vigor, having discovered that spiced compost is a lot tastier.
Meanwhile, I had planted a ground cover in the perennial bed on the advice of a landscaper. It will control weeds, I was told. I should have been suspicious when I learned the name. Goutweed. I found out that it controls weeds by growing uncontrollably and taking over every spare inch of soil in sight, including the lawn. I had to dig it out by its mass of tangled roots, which go deep into the ground. Now I patrol the area daily to dig out any new shoots. It would have been easier to pull the weeds.
In a perfect world, the lawn would grow only as high as the blade on my lawn mower. I purposely do not water it to discourage it from growing too rapidly. I cut it only when it becomes scruffy, much like my hair. I found out that those practices actually encourage grass to grow deep roots that make it more immune to drought and healthier in the long run. Maybe I should wash my hair less often and get even fewer haircuts.
Our landscaper said it would take our newly planted shrubs several years to grow before pruning would be necessary. Our yard has deep and rich topsoil, a characteristic of older neighborhoods, rather than a thin layer of topsoil over clay to China like in the new neighborhoods.
“Your shrubs are a rat’s nest,” said the person we hired to do the pruning, way ahead of several years. I was slightly embarrassed and also a little resentful of having our yard spoken of in reference to a disgusting rodent, given the problems I was already having with mice.
The path we had built for casual evening walks to admire our shrubs had been virtually consumed by them. It is a jungle out there. The shrubs were only supposed to grow so high and so wide, according to the little tag attached to them, instead of much higher and much wider. Maybe they were shrubs intended for newer neighborhoods. Plant in interminable clay and cover with a thin layer of topsoil, it probably said in the fine print.
So much for tameness in my backyard. No wonder the squirrels and mice thought they were welcome. Maybe they even thought no one lived there anymore. No worry about being a pest of a guest. The garbage under the sink should, however, have been a clue, at least for the mice.
I could probably go on and on, about the irony of life as illustrated in these few examples. I think of irony as the way life slips and slides around the expectations we have of it and shows us ways that it can be much more interesting.
In a perfect world, there would be little in the way of a rich emotional life. Just the boring process of having yet another expectation met. No reason to laugh, cry, be angry or sad, disappointed or surprised. Nothing other than always having our way. Irony is what helps us grow, I think, by not always getting our way and having to integrate what happens instead.
Our back yard will never grace a glossy magazine cover. It is not the perfect image of a garden. Maybe that is why everything grows beyond any expectation.
My next essay will be posted here in August.
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