Biff America column: Nature in the ’hood
July 29, 2016
Though they are wild, we gave them cute names — Butch, Scrappy and Pecker-head. Along with the forenames, we have assigned personalities. Butch is skittish, Scrappy is sweet and Pecker-head hates his name.
Since arriving back in the high country, we've been spending most evenings sitting in the money pit we call our garden watching the sunset and unwinding after a hard day of unwinding. In early June, we wore down jackets, but it's now July, and we have since switched to down vests.
Problem with Voles
We returned from California to find our yard ravaged by voles. Ellie gave me two assignments: Relocate the voles (without killing them), and foot the bill for a copious amount of plants, flowers and bushes that will have the life expectancy of Roger Ailes' career.
My first thought was to build a beautiful wall and make the voles pay for it. Rather than do that, I set up three Have-a-Heart traps and I sat in the front yard with a beverage. On a good night, I'd catch 10 voles. I'd store the rodents in a large bucket, and then, in keeping with my bride's animal-loving edicts, relocate them to a nicer neighborhood where I thought they would be happier. After three days and 30 rodents, I realized that we were either infested with homing-rats that were finding their way back to our yard, or there were more creatures than was humanly possible to catch.
Oh the Irony
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Finally, I had noticed that the traps weren't filling up as before. I assumed I was winning the battle, when one evening, we turned and saw 10 feet behind us a fox with two dead voles in his mouth. The fox looked thin with molted fur; my mate named him Scrappy.
Ellie, so adamant that I don't harm the voles, was delighted that a wild animal would eat them alive in front of us, but I held my tongue. I was just delighted that I no longer had to drive to the rich neighborhoods twice a night to relocate the pests.
Prowling the Garden
A few days later, Butch arrived. We assumed Butch was Scrappy's brother since he looked to be the same age but was larger, thicker and more skittish. While Scrappy would sometimes, between hunts, sit 20 feet away and stare at us, Butch would just roam through the open space next to our house while occasionally wandering in and taking a pee on our expensive flowers (typical man).
Almost every few nights, we would get a visit from Scrappy, Butch or both. They would prowl the garden and leave.
We only fed them voles, but that is not true for our other wild guest, a bird named Pecker-head. (For brevity, I will use his initials, PH.) PH looked to be a robin with a thyroid condition. He was built like one of those steroid-enhanced chickens with huge spotted breasts and was unusually friendly for a fowl. Recently, Ellie talked me into springing for a top end dried mealworm feeder. Soon after, PH became a fixture in our yard.
We were nourishing many other birds at our various feeders, but PH was notable for two reasons — he was huge and friendly. After engorging himself on mealworms, PH could sometimes be found digging around under our occupied lawn chairs. One time, while Ellie was sitting still reading, he actually landed on her head.
Wild Animal CPR
All was harmonious at the Biff America compound until Butch ate Pecker-head. We were sitting outside on a warm July night wearing our light ski hats. I was sipping on two fingers of Old Grand Dad, while Ellie drank wine directly out of a box. We hadn't seen either of our fox-friends for a few days.
There was a red blur about 10 feet away; we heard one loud chirp and then silence. Butch snuck out of the bush with a dead Pecker-head in his mouth. Ellie screamed at me, "Do something!" I wasn't about to approach a wild animal to try to take his meal. Though Ellie demanded I attempt mouth-to-beak resuscitation — I refused — PH was dead.
My mate took Pecker-head's death hard. I reminded her that, despite their cute names, Scrappy and Butch are wild animals, and as such, they are simply following their instincts. I added that it is a bit hypocritical to applaud them killing voles while condemning them for eating a robin. She said she understood but also lamented that now we are vole-less and PH is dead. Our foxes would move on to more fertile hunting in someone else's yard.
I didn't mention the newest member of our wild menagerie. Early morning and just after sunset, we've been seeing a sweet, plump, little bunny hopping around in the garden. Ellie has named him Thumper.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff's new book "Mind, Body, Soul," is available at local shops and bookstores or shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.