Originally published under the title: Tales of Insomnia, Darwin, and Liquid Fence in the Des Moines Register 2007
In 1997, we moved from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa. We were excited about the deck and our many oak trees. We got into the habit of opening our windows to the night air and falling asleep to the sounds of the woods—the chirps of crickets, the hum of insect mandibles chewing. Ah the country, a little bit of heaven.
Think again. One night I was awakened by a piercing screech so intense I couldn’t sleep. I knew it would keep up until the owl had killed its prey or the neighbor’s cat could free itself from the local fox. Tooth and claw, the survival of the fittest, was alive and functioning just beyond my fence. But the point was I had a fence. I had my territory and they had theirs and we could just keep it that way.
Then my neighbors explained to me that the reason my hosta plants had morphed into razor-edged sticks was something called browsing—a word that meant the deer were enjoying a salad. This was all so new we spent the evening watching deer from my son’s treefort. We counted the points on the male’s rack and called the folks back in Chicago bragging about our amazing wildlife.
Then there was the large doe finishing off my impatiens. I clapped my hands, shouted, picked up a stone and lobbed it at her. Inner-city deer. She kept on chewing.
The mythology of dealing with deer bloomed. “Put out bars of soap. Scatter human hair. Let your son relieve himself on your plants.” Whatever!!!
The gardening center had shelves of products. I read the labels. Apply frequently; apply when it’s not going to rain; apply and cover each frond of the plant! I had about 90 hostas. And this stuff wasn’t cheap. I bought something called Liquid Fence which when applied leaves a stench that will keep the deer away and your best friends. But I sprayed. And I had my fence, right?
The deer were jumping my fence. And the rest of nature was just beginning to gear up. The word had gotten around in the critter community—we’ve got fresh meat living in the grey house, go for broke.
There was scratching below our deck. Then I saw a creature scuttle to its new home—under that deck. I found a picture of my critter—a woodchuck. Go ahead, start singing the old rhyme. But like skunks, you don’t want one of these things living with you. They are more territorial then I was surely becoming. Oak trees, acorns—this woodchuck was set for life.
The critter-catcher set up three traps. We caught two possum, two raccoons and the neighbor’s cat. Finally one afternoon I actually saw the critter walk right into the trap. I was so excited I called my husband at work. I had gone over the edge. The critter-catcher wasn’t far behind. He brought a camera . “I’ve never caught one of these,” he told me happily. We were a pair.
Then at two a.m. there was the bat, fighting the circles of the ceiling fan above our bed. And me with a broom and a baseball cap and a towel—you use the towel to throw the bat to the ground. I was learning!
Now I’m definitely dreaming of a condo—no trees, no animals. But can I give up listening to the sounds of nature as I fall asleep?
A few nights ago: bump, thunk! It’s four a.m. and something has just knocked over the bird bath. I’m awake. Is it deer in the hostas? I haven’t sprayed. A raccoon? My husband says a raccoon is eating through our roof shingles. He’s starting to crack too. I closed my eyes, but all I could see was the yard below swarming with wild life, every inch crawling with nature, vivid with its slither and instinct, its hunger and need.
In the morning, the lawn was full of squirrels and chipmunks. For even if the legal documents for our dwelling has the name HAVEY on it, we now know who truly owns the place.
If you have any critter problems, please share.
Thanks to Google Images