Nature Studies, Backyard, Gardening, Vacations

Soulful Dichotomy

Last summer I had foolishly tried to have a gardening blog, along with One Generation, and Wee Folk Art. The gardening blog was very short lived. But below is a story I shared there. What got me to thinking about it is the little plastic pool now on our deck. This year it seems the wee ones will need to share it with the puppies... I CAN'T keep them out of it! One big happy family! Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story. 

Tim and I have this nature dichotomy thing going. On one hand we love animals and encourage their residence in our yard. We pay more money monthly for our bird seed and peanuts than we do our cable, and if we had to give up one, the t.v. would go. We established a National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat in our yard, and have the sign to prove it! And we spend time every morning having coffee with the birds and squirrels.

On the other hand, we are gardeners. And by virtue, we are often at odds with the very animals we invite into our yard. Bottom line, wildlife ARE NOT courteous guests. They have little respect for our property, never offer to help, and I've yet to get a thank-you note from a single one. We read about natural ways to keep the animals out of the areas we don't want them, but obviously they don't read the same books because it seldom works. And they never seem content with the virtual cornucopia of gastronomic delicacies we put out for them. Instead, after filling their bellies with seeds and nuts, they move on to tender foliage and juicy roots.

We've managed to curtail the abuses of rabbits and deer enough to get meager crops from our yard, but what we've never been able to get a handle on, is the destruction from chipmunks. Such cute little guys, gluttonously filling their cheeks with seeds, planting them deep in the ground, only to forget where they stuck them later. But we're okay with that. The problem is they like to tunnel under our perennial beds and eat the roots. Their destruction is camouflaged and deadly. This is how it works. You have a lovely plant in your yard, let's say a coral bell. It looks beautiful and healthy. No nibble marks on it. Then one day, when you are watering, you notice the bottom leaves look a little wilty. When you reach down to examine the plant, the whole bloody thing falls over. There isn't a root left to anchor it to the ground or to nourish the plant. And in the corner, just out of reach, a chipmunk is rubbing it's belly, enjoying the afterglow of a gourmet's nosh.

The only way we've found to deal with chipmunks, is to trap them, and take them for a long drive. On a good summer's day, we can relocate 8 of these little rodents. Because I really hate breaking up families, we always drop them off at the same place, hoping they'll be reunited with their loved ones. It's this lovely, quaint little country cemetery, and I don't think the residence mind their roots being munched on.

Having said all this, here's what happened yesterday morning. Tim looks out of our bedroom window and says, "Oh no. There's a chipmunk in the pool." Looking out the window, I see a chipmunk doggy paddling for all he's worth. This is just a little plastic sided pool we keep on the deck for the kids to splash around in after they get out of the big pool. (This is where they have their evening bathes on many summer's nights.) But once in, the little guy could not get out. I'm not sure how long he was in there, but when Tim scooped him out, and laid him on the deck, it was obvious he was nearing death, and undoubtedly heading toward the light!

He was so pathetic. How long had he been there? What little chipmunk thoughts were going through his head? I wonder if he was thinking about all the things he had yet to accomplish in his life. There were so many coral bells yet to be ate. Had he properly prepared his children for survival? From my bedroom window, I'm telling Tim to lift his head and rub his chest. Doubting his ability to properly resuscitate a drowning rat, I headed outside, wrapped the little guy in a towel, and began stroking his chest. "Don't give up little, guy. You made it this far, don't die on us now." After about 15 minutes of stroking him, I sent Tim in the house to get another dry towel. We were going to make a little bed for him until he got his strength back. When Tim came out, carrying the towel, it felt warm. "I heated it up for him." (I kid you not.) We placed the towel in a basket making a little nest, and set the little guy inside. He briefly lifted his head, I'm going to believe he was thanking us, then settled in.

He was still wrapped in the towel a half an hour later when I needed to leave the house, but his nose was twitching more, and he tried to dig deeper in the towel when he saw me. When I came home 2 hours later, he was gone. I felt elated. I know tomorrow I'll be griping about the chipmunks in the garden. I will gently chide our border collie for not chasing them off, and we'll set a trap in hopes of transporting another chipmunk over the county line. But we'll go nose to nose with a strong and healthy chipmunk. We were not going to take advantage of the little guy's weakened state. I'd like to think he will repay our kindness by sticking to bird seed and leaving our plants alone. But a fish has to swim, a bird has to fly, and a chipmunk has to nimble on roots.

What's In A Name?

Today I spent an entirely exhausting but wonderfully fulfilling day in the gardens. Michelle's family came over to "Help Gammy". Seven year old Bug learned to prune a small crab apple tree. Five year old Fairy showed her might as she hauled bags of mulch. And three year old Pixie impressed us all as she shoveled pea gravel into the wheelbarrow with "Othy". (Othy... their name for Tim, as in Timothy... Tim Othy... Othy. Cute, right?) Anyway... At one point Fairy came over and asked, "What's that plant called?" Over the winter some of the plant markers got shifted or the growing spring plants covered our painted rocks that bear their names. Together we went through the garden we were working on to make sure all the name rocks were visible and by the correct plant. By each plant, Fairy used her budding reading skills to try to decipher the names. There were lovely names like Foam Flower, Coral Bells, and Porcupine Grass. For the rest of the day, each time she passed a plant, she'd look at the rock and proudly say the plant's name. It reminded of this blog I had written for One Generation to Another May 20, 2008. I hope you enjoy it!  

Tim: (Getting into the car after popping into Kroger to pick up some milk.) Peggy said there are tornado warnings.

Me: (More perplexed by the name Peggy then the impeding doom, I rack my brain trying to figure out who Peggy is. Coming up blank…) Who the heck is Peggy?

Tim: The cashier.

Me: How do you know her?

Tim: I just told you she was the check out clerk.

Me: Do you know her from somewhere else?

Tim: No.

Me: Then how do you know her name?

Tim: It was on her badge.

Me: Then why use her name like it means something to me?

Tim: Because it’s her name.

Me: You’re very odd.

This gives you some kind of understanding of the riveting conversions Tim and I have! Having said that…to me a name is personal…the use of one’s name implies intimacy. To Tim it simply conveys friendliness. Truth be told, people respond surprisingly well to him. I’m the kind of person whose dander flies with the first sign of confrontation. Tim becomes all smiles…and uses people’s names. Actually, this is a tried and true marketing strategy. Next time you get a telemarketing phone call notice how they utilize your name thus suggesting friendship and closeness. It’s much harder to turn down “Bob” when he keeps calling you “Kathy” than a nameless voice calling you ma’am or sir. (Unless, of course, your name isn’t Kathy!)

Anyway, names are powerful and the use of names does provide us with a sense of ownership, intimacy and responsibility. Right now I’m reading a very interesting book titled Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. I’m only a quarter of the way into the book but being a true believer that the average American child does not spend nearly enough “exploratory” time outside, I found the phrase Nature-Deficit Disorder to be intriguing. The author shares a conversation with naturalist and educator Elaine Brooks. She believes that people are unlikely to value things they cannot name. “One of my students told me that every time she learns the name of a plant, she feels as if she is meeting someone new. Giving a name to something is a way of knowing it.”

If we want our children to become intimately involved with their environment, the best way to do that is to “properly” introduce them to nature. Start in your backyard. Instead of talking about “the birds” use their names. (If you don’t know them get yourself a backyard bird book like Backyard Birds (Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists) by Jonathan Latimer or Birds, Nests & Eggs (Take-Along Guides) by Mel Boring. Start a bird watching journal. What about the trees and plants in your yard? What insects populate your yard? Helping your children discover the diversity in their own yard and learning to identify many of them by name might be the single greatest thing you can do to help your child become ecologically responsible. Names lead to intimacy…intimacy leads to caring…caring leads to action.

The other day we were at The Metro Park. We are so lucky to have this 5,000 acre park just 4 miles from the house. We went to see the egrets nesting and after hiking down to the long expansion bridge on one of the lakes, we pulled out our binoculars and watched the beautiful birds. I was with my daughter and her children. Along with the egrets we saw blue herons, a nesting swan, a northern water snake, a family of snapping turtles sunning on a log, and scores of red winged blackbirds. I enjoyed listening to my 5 year old grandson talk about his surroundings. He kept asking for the name of everything he saw. He already knows most of the local birds by name but his thirst for information is infinite. While listening to him it was apparent that he felt a sense of intimacy with the creatures and plants around him…you might say he’s becoming one with nature. To him nature is not something foreign “out there”. It is something personal, that he is involved with, and knows by name!

Over the years we have often gone one step further and have actually give proper names to things. My daughter named the weeping cherry she gave me one Mother’s Day, Julie. The boys named the matching dogwoods Barkley and Bob. My daughter's children name their squirrels. Now, I’m willing to bet the farm that they aren’t always identifying the same squirrel…but it doesn’t matter! What matters is they feel a connection to the animals in their backyard!

We take the time to get to know the names of a people we deal with regularly. We learn the name of streets we frequent. We remember the names of delicious dishes at favorite restaurants, and we can list by name the television shows we watch every week. Learning names makes is easier to talk about things accurately. It also suggests a level of involvement. So, the next time you’re in the great outdoors with your children, take the time to meet some new friends…friends you can call by name!

For the Birds!

Sugar Bush

It's March... and around here that means it is SUGARING TIME!!! We are in the middle of perfect sugaring weather... freezing at night but a beautiful 45 or so during the day. We took our first trip to the Sugar Bush on Sunday and then we came home (actually went to Gammy's) and made our own Maple Sugar Candy (click here to check out this yummy treat).

Mmmm... there is nothing quite like the smell of a sugar shack. Sweet sap boiling, firewood smoldering, fresh earth exposed (ie lovely March mud). Bug would spend all day peering into the sap pans if he could.

Did you know that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup? You can collect 6-10 gallons of sap per Sugar Maple tree during sugaring season. To learn more about sugaring check out these great books Grandpa's Sugar Bush and Sugaring Time. Grandpa's Sugar Bush is a lovely introduction for the younger crowd and reading Sugaring Time is the next best thing to being able to help out at a Sugar Shack.

The Farm we visit sets up a Native American Sugaring Camp display for the kids... the kids favorite part... squishing through the six inch deep mud. ;)

And A Happy New Year!

The last of our children headed for home today, leaving Tim and I alone for the first time in almost 2 weeks. What a wonderful time we all had. And with the exception of a couple of broken glass Christmas ornaments, resulting from Bug's new bow and arrows, the house remains intact. (BTW... I would like to point out that Bug did not break the ornaments... his rowdy Uncles can take full credit for the destruction!)

So, here I sit, sorting through the Christmas photos, smiling at the mayhem, marveling at how tired I usually looked ;) but feeling extremely blessed. I am hopefully that everyone had a marvelous time with their loved ones.

I am taking the next couple of days to put the house back in order and do some serious snuggling with Tim. Michelle and I will be back on Monday, January 4, with lots of New Projects for the New Year!

I wish you much health, happiness and good fortune, and may we all delight in the smallest of blessings this coming year!

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