At Large : Attacks in the green zone
After a winter of rain, parched April has Islanders thinking August. Spring's kiss has inflamed and accelerated the changes we all welcome.
Take the rabbits, for instance. They have bellied up to our perennial garden, in numbers sufficient to keep the new growth at a stylish buzz-cut. We'll need a microscope to enjoy our coreopsis in June, when it ought to be a foot or two tall. In our garden, coreopsis only reaches cottontail height.
Diesel, the fearsome mastiff, lounges on the front porch overlooking the garden and imagining, I imagine, that he is watching the action on a pinball machine, or maybe billiards.
Sadly, Diesel has focused on skunks, which are certainly pests but with a big downside that we've been unable to explain to Deez. We say, get after the deer or the rabbits. He thinks skunks.
With Jimmy Carter's help, the deer have reached agreement with the rabbits, giving the taller freeloaders exclusive rights to any plant fortunate enough to survive to a height of 12 inches or more. Having discovered that we removed the lone rhododendron plant that never bloomed once in its 15-year existence, the deer leadership cadre has picketed in protest. They say they counted on rhododendron leaves and buds each spring and regarded it of no importance that the plant never achieved blossoms.
Finches and cardinals have begun to serenade the deer and the rabbits, occasionally drowning out the chewing noises that would otherwise dominate what passes for nature's serenade in our back yard. We're going through, oh, maybe a hundred pounds of bird food a week these days. I've added the tympanic tunes of my shotgun to the symphony, just to scare off the 40-pound crows that brush aside the smaller birds at the trough.
Red-tailed hawks swoop back and forth across the lawn, hunting the rabbits and squirrels, but never depleting the scampering herds sufficiently, if you ask me. Early one morning last week, a hawk landed on the lawn outside the bedroom for breakfast, not 10 feet from the side of the house. I couldn't tell what he was eating, but the fur was flying. Fortunately, the pug was in the house.
The only handsome tree on our lot is a swamp maple, which buds first, perhaps because it's the tallest tree in the neighborhood. Neither the maple nor the scrub oaks - not even the crab apple or choke cherry - make a big show of budding or blooming. They play catch-up. They let Vineyard Haven bud out, then maybe, if spring is to their liking, they'll pop a bud. They are desultory about their springtime business, like teenagers who've been forced to go to a recital when they would rather be in their rooms Wii-ing.
Apart from the disturbing and relentless noise of mastication, mostly in the early morning or early evening, it's the woodpeckers, the springtime rhythm section, that dominate the daytime. I shoo them away from the cornerboards of the house, but otherwise I'm happy to hear them make their love noises.
The dead of night is all frog noises, peepers, pinkletinks, invisible squeaky symphonies, punctuated occasionally by the clattering lid of a garbage can overturned by a skunk or raccoon. Despite the clatter, Diesel snores on.
Seasonal human faces have begun to appear on the dirt road, folks whose real lives are lived in California, Miami, or New York. They're down early and briefly, during school vacation, to begin opening the house, sweeping out the mouse droppings, dipping the drowned mouse out of the toilet bowl, taking the seaweed off the gardens, and opening the windows to let the mothball smell escape before everyone moves in on Memorial Day weekend.
How was your winter? they want to know. Cold, rainy, but over at last, we say. Nice to see you again. The kids have grown six inches.
Or if they are gardeners, they want to know whether you've planted anything yet. Got your garden tilled? Spread the lime yet? Spread the fertilizer? Got your peas in?
And, under assault as we are from marauding nature, we demur and ask ourselves, Don't these people have wildlife where they live?