Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chewing Creatures

Marley having a nice lie down in my kitchen porch chair this summer, before she tore that screen down The deer ate my nasturtiums this summer. They kept my apple tree’s leaves trimmed at an even height across the bottom, chomped on my columbines, stripped the leaves and buds from the roses, ate the potato plants back to nubs, consumed the cosmos, and even munched the mallow that my mother once was pleased to tell me is a weed. A tasty weed to a deer, apparently. Deer will be deer. This is the first time since I moved here in 1977 that they have been so bold as to graze inside the fenced yard. As far as they are concerned, the fence is nothing. I don’t like their chewy depredations, and may have said a few unkind words about them. My flowers make me happy, and losing them to the deer makes me sad. I’ve always had a “live and let live” attitude toward the deer, but they are not letting my plants live now, and it is causing some hard feelings. But the plants will grow back, mostly, if the deer stay away for a while, which they seem to do. They come in and feast, then go away for a few weeks. Today I have a different kind of chewing situation. I didn’t sleep well last night, and had to get up early this morning, so was looking forward to having a nap this afternoon. When I got home, I let the dog out and went into the bedroom to lie down. A couple of hours later when I woke up I went into the kitchen to let the dog in. Now, here’s the thing about my dog. Marley has separation anxiety. Perhaps it is because she was abandoned more than once before VIPP rescued her, or perhaps it is simply her anxious nature. A couple of times in the past when she was on what she considered the wrong side of a door, she tried to chew her way through it, leaving a splintery patch in the door jamb. Today she freaked out because I left her outside, and because I was asleep I didn’t hear her trying to get in. She had shredded the screen I had hanging in the doorway. It was one of those screens you see on TV, that is two pieces with magnets that hold it together in the middle. It was an ideal solution to the problem of the dog wanting in and out in good weather. Once she learned to go through it, she could go in and out as she wished, and the screen kept out the usual plague of flying insects that get in the house in the summer. No mosquitoes or mosquito hawks, no big slow buzzing flies, no regular house flies, no moths. I really enjoyed not having them. Well, that screen is history now, and I’m sorry for that, but she also tried to chew her way through the door again. The small chewed patch in the door jamb is now a big chewed patch, with large splinters sticking out, and more large splinters lying on the porch, plus a little blood from where she hurt herself on the splinters. A close inspection of the interior of her mouth with a flashlight showed me the abrasions on her gums. No splinters there, thank goodness. It is gratifying to have a dog who wants to be with me; however, it would be nice if Marley didn’t freak out in such a destructive way to herself and the house when she has an anxiety attack. Some of you will say it was my fault for leaving her outside and going to sleep. I can’t deny it, as usually I would not do that, but I was so tired. So now the flying bugs are with me – those big buzzing bombers, and tiny little gnats or whatever they are. At least there is more food for the indoor spiders (always trying to look on the bright side). Oh well. The dog will heal. It is autumn now, and the door will be closed more than open. I can get a new screen next summer. When I got up this morning and went out to have coffee on the porch, I saw one small, pale lavender cosmos flower blooming amidst the chewed off stumps of the rest of the cosmos, and it made me feel better somehow. The deer didn’t get them all. Life will keep trying. Good to know. Addendum: A few days after I wrote this, I noticed a white crab spider living on that single cosmos bloom. It's been there now for about a week.


The happiest part of my day is spent sitting on the kitchen porch after I shoo the dog out of my chair (it gets warm in the morning sun and she likes to lie in it). I sit there drinking my morning coffee and watching the birds at the bird feeder. They are endlessly amusing. Right now there are a lot of Red-breasted Nuthatches coming by. The Chestnut-backed Chickadees still show up, but the Grosbeaks haven’t been by lately. I saw a Hairy Woodpecker the other day – my first one. I haven’t paid close enough attention to recognize individual Chickadees or Nuthatches, and unlike serious birders I do not know one bird song from another. Oh, I know when I hear a crow or a Stellar’s Jay. Those calls are pretty unmistakable, but the little birds all blend together for me. I think it’s the Black-capped Chickadees that remind me of my aunt’s canaries. My aunt had an outdoor cage with two canaries in it for years. This was in balmy central California, and if the weather was harsh, my aunt would lower canvas covers over the screens, so they survived fine out there. At least I think they did. Now I’m wondering for the first time if my aunt was making regular trips to the canary store to get replacements over the years. Another one of those questions I wish I’d thought of when she was still alive. I guess she kept them to listen to their singing, and I remember them tweeting up a storm. There is one chirp the Black-capped Chickadee makes that takes me right back to my aunt’s back yard, and I can see the cage and the canaries again. Oh, and the lemon tree behind the cage. The bird books I consult try to describe the calls and songs of birds on the written page, and honestly, I don’t know why they even bother. If you already know what the bird sounds like, you might read the description and say, why, yes, that is that bird’s song. But if you don’t know it, the descriptions aren’t much help. One bird’s voice description said it went, “Yank yank yank.” I have never heard a bird say, sing, or call anything that sounded to me like “yank yank yank.” Same goes for most of the other written approximations of bird song. For example: the Barn Swallow “utters continuous zip-zip-zip twittering chatter and a kvick-kvick call.” (p. 270, “Birds of Washington State,” Lone Pine Publishing, by Brian H. Bell and Gregory Kennedy) Again, I’ve never heard a bird say kvick-kvick. Sounds like a Yiddish bird to me. So, you want I shouldn’t build my mud nest in the eave over your front door? Kvick you, alta kaka.
I’ll wait here while you google it. When I was young I wanted to be the best singer in the world. As I got older and developed a more rational sense of my own talent, I wanted to be a good enough singer/songwriter that I was respected by other singer/songwriters, which is still a lot to want. Songwriting is a tough row to hoe (I see you songwriters are nodding your heads). It’s not easy because even if you are good, people would rather hear you sing a Johnny Cash song, or anything familiar, than your own precious original creations. Yeah, all songs start out as someone’s precious original creation, but if someone recorded it and had a hit with it, an audience is going to be a lot happier hearing that familiar ditty than your impeccably crafted, but unfamiliar, original song. That’s the way people are. The familiar is more comfortable. That’s why there are so many cover bands that work regularly in bars and cocktail lounges. I also wanted when I was younger to become a better person. I read the self-help books, I went to therapy, I did support groups. Then sometime around my forty-third year I had this epiphany: I’m not going to live long enough to fix myself. Now, in my sixties, I found myself writing to a friend, “Live and learn. Well, actually, I don’t care anymore if I learn anything as long as I keep on living.” My standards and expectations have relaxed, you see. Maybe all I really need to do now is sit in the morning light and drink my coffee and watch the birds and enjoy their songs, and teach the dog new tricks. She learned “spin around” last week, and it was surprisingly gratifying. Maybe that Facebook quiz that said I was best suited to be an animal trainer was right.