It’s important to remember that there are more of them than us. And they are here all week long. Therefore, animals have immense strategic advantage over me. No doubt who the real property owners are.
Accommodation is key. Not the sleeping kind, but the getting along kind. Wild life is just that. Untamed, uncontrolled, unpredictable. So patience, adaptability, a good sense of humour are best for dealing with forest creatures. Also, fleet feet, a set of tools and the immortal Boy Scout credo: “If at first you don’t succeed…” And I do “try, try again” –whatever I’m trying to do that interferes with their wild life. Which seems to be most everything. Where was I when these rules were written?
Lessons in Feeding and Seeding…
Things like keeping the robins from nest building on my porch light – undeterred by the light lighting, the door slamming or me running in and out making cat noises to shoo them away. I clean the porch again, they come back to recreate, procreate and defecate. The wife says it looks good on me.
Bird feeding is another repetitious act. I put out seeds; they eat. Ad infinitum. But mine are picky birds. They perch on the feeders, shovelling aside all but their choice titbits until the ground is deep in gourmet seed rejects. After the squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, skunks, mice and moles select their meals, I rake up the remainder over and over again. A zillion seeds and not one has ever taken root. And I thought I had a green thumb.
Storing the seeds to go through this rejection requires cunning, dexterity and a can opener. Huge seed bags are difficult to lug about, so I decided to keep the waiting seed in nearby garbage cans. Were the raccoons glad! The bungee cords I used to secure the can lids became their favourite hors d’oevres until I foiled them with heavy wire. They couldn’t get in, but neither could I. Which explains the can opener.
Then both cans went missing. I retrieved them from the woods and chained them to a tree. The raccoons no longer get my seed, but neither do I. It’s just too much trouble breaking into those cans every time I want to waste seed. So I shug the big bags. The wife chalks another win up for the wild life. Such a party girl.
Wild life is invisible…
For every critter seen, hundreds more slip by undetected, leaving only the faintest trace of passage. But there are holes. I have a plague of them. Big ones, small ones, some the size of your head… hidden ones and ones I trip over. My ground has more hole than earth. Where do they come from? What lives there? What possesses a passing animal to dig a whole hole to mark its presence? Do I really want to know? The wife says she’s waiting for one my size to put me in.
And what about streaks? Not naked animals running, but smears on my window. Every weekend I’d wash it off and the next it would appear again. I changed cleaners, I scrubbed harder, I washed the other side and contemplated changing the glass. Then one morning I noticed the hummingbirds at the feeder outside said window. No squanderers of energy these, the hummers would swoop in to feed and let go their waste stream in the momentum of flight. Splattering it on my pane. Who am I to argue? Better there than dive bombing my drink
Equally frequent are the saplings disappearing from my shore, the brake cables gnawed in my drive, the patio festooned with little black pellets, the grass covered with patterned skin sheddings, and the stringer of fish head remnants floating in the water by the dock. And who took my bait? Tore up my garbage? Mauled my shoes? Dug up the flowers? If only the phantom knows, then he has much to confess.
Our dogs feel very needed at the camp. They compete for space. They patrol their domain. They chase the frogs, frighten the snakes, try to figure out fish, dig out every hole in sight and ignore anything strange. Which leaves me alone most of the time. Filling in holes.
The wife is satisfied that the life is wild outdoors. She knows where to find me. Out there somewhere, trying something over again. Me and Lord Baden Powell.
This article was originally published as part of the syndicated “Intrepid Cottager” column in many Ontario newspapers.