My first project was the pond. The house had no landscaping when I scratched out a hole in a low spot and lined it with cardboard. Among the construction debris the contractor hadn’t carried away yet, I found a big piece of black plastic and put that over the cardboard. So far so good. I put the garden hose in my rough pond and began to fill it.
I planned to edge the pond with broken tree limbs, ferns and a few rocks. I left the hose filling the pond and sauntered off to drag my tree limb to the pond area. I returned within ten minutes dragging my tree. I found a dragonfly buzzing over the water. He buzzed me as I tried to position my tree limb along the edge of the pond. With only six inches of water I’d already attracted wildlife to my yard. Hurray!
As the pond filled more dragonflies came. I was still working on the edge when a bird arrived to check out the new pond.
By dinner time, the pond was full and the edges mostly covered with the tree limb, a few rocks, bark, and a couple native ferns that looked beat-up from being transplanted. As we ate dinner, we watched the dragonflies perform an aerial ballet over the water. Birds fluttered down to the edge of the pond to cautiously take a drink before one brave wren took a whole bath. My pond was a smashing success.
I should have done a reality check right then and there. This rough pond that I’d spent three hours building out of construction debris should have been a warning.
The next evening, hubby stopped at the pet supply store and picked up some small goldfish to keep mosquitos from breeding in our pond. We carefully poured them into the water. During dinner I told Hubby about the deer that had looked in the kitchen window. We sighed over our home in the woods and watched the goldfish surface to grab mosquitoes that dared to land on their pond.
The following morning, I sat with my morning cocoa and watched the breeze ripple the surface of my pond. It was the only pretty spot among the dirt and dust left behind after construction. As I planned where I would put my roses, a kingfisher swooped down out of a tree, splashed in the pond and flew back into the tree with one of my goldfish in his beak. I wasn’t so sure about that. I finally decided the kingfisher was pretty. I’d never seen one before. I’d certainly never realized that a kingfisher could eat that many goldfish so quickly. I called Hubby to pick up more goldfish on his way home from work—the war was on.
I found a waterlily at the garden store and added it to my pond, hoping it would give the fish some shelter from the kingfisher. The goldfish hid under its leaves and around it’s pot. I’d foiled the kingfisher. The waterlily grew and soon sprouted a bud.
Every morning I’d run out to look at my waterlily bud, anticipating the day it would open. The bud grew and the outer petals started to open. I went out for my morning inspection of the pond. The leaves on the waterlily were torn. The pot was tipped over and my bud was gone—just totally gone. I couldn’t find a sign of it anywhere. Looking carefully, I found footprints.
I called Hubby to come look at the mess around my pond and at the footprints. We counted the toes and noticed the sharp claw marks. I stood up straight while the blood of war pulsed through my veins. A raccoon had taken my waterlily bud.
With the waterlily torn apart, the kingfisher returned, and I called Hubby again to bring home more gold fish.
At the proper time, we planted our new orchard. First, we thought the few deer we’d seen wouldn’t notice some dormant trees. We watched for signs of deer in the back. All seemed well.
In the same mail order as the fruit trees, I ordered some iris for the pond. I put them in and watched them grow, hoping the raccoons wouldn’t eat them. The raccoons seemed to ignore the iris. Yay, another win for the pond.
One morning I heard the flap of wings and splashing in the pond. I looked out to find a pair of wild mallard ducks in my pond. My heart leapt with joy just before I ran out the door on the other side of the house to chase the herd of deer out of my orchard.
I stayed in the orchard, examining my young trees to see why they hadn’t leafed out. After close examination, I found the buds where the tree had leafed out, only to have deer devour the new leaves. Hoping the trees would survive, I returned to the house to get money and my coat to go to town and buy wire and fence posts to build protection for my trees.
I glanced out the windows on the front side of the house where the pond was. I smiled. The ducks were still there. They had their heads under water and their tails in the air. How cute. Wait. What could they possibly find to eat on the bottom of the pond? I closed my eyes as the answer hit me. They were chowing down on the roots to my water iris.
I wanted to grieve the loss of the water iris, but I still needed the wire and stakes if I was going to save my orchard. So far, the wildlife was winning the war.
Exhausted from building cages around all my baby fruit trees, I came inside and dropped down on the sofa to call my gardening friend and relate my woes.
“You need to get a big dog.” She told me. “When I was little, my dad always kept a dog to protect the farm.”
I called Hubby at work and told him about the fruit trees and the water iris. “I got cages around all the trees, but can you bring home some take-out? And, we need a dog.”
“We don’t have a fence for a dog yet.”
“I know, we’ll get one of those wire mesh kennels. I’ll go look for a dog I’m not allergic to.”
Hubby resisted getting a dog. I showed him pictures of poodle puppies. He wasn’t interested. Early one morning I heard him out in the garden yelling. I rolled out of bed to see if he was okay. I met him as he came inside. “A great blue heron just ate all the fish in the pond. I can’t find a single fish, and they were getting big.” He looked a little red around the neck and a vein pulsed in his temple. “How much were those standard poodles you were looking at?”
“I want to get two to keep each other company.”
We got the kennel and two dog houses then picked up two beautiful poodles from the breeder who assured us these were bred for good health. “Their grandfather came from Germany. They are not as inbred as what we have in the states. Here we breed too much for show.”
We brought our puppies home and played with them. At bedtime we took them to their new kennel, shut them in, and went to bed ourselves. Just as we drifted off to sleep one of the poodles let out a deep throated woof. We heard the crashing of brush breaking and the pounding of hooves as the herd of deer ran. We pulled the covers up to our chins, thinking we’d won the war.
Did you know poodles were bred for hunting? Well, the ones in the US are bred for show, but in Germany they’re still bred for hunting. A week after the poodles came to live with us, we were trying to fence in our acre as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, we put the dogs on leashes and walked them every morning before bringing them inside to spend the day playing in the house, jumping on the sofa and chasing each other back and forth.
The deer avoided the side of the house where the kennel was, but attacked my roses on the other side of the house. I tried putting up dryer sheets on the roses, planting garlic around them, and spraying the roses with the same bitter-apple spray I used to keep the dogs from chewing on the seat belts in the car.
After two weeks of trying to protect the orchard and my roses while walking two energetic dogs, I stumbled half-asleep out to the kennel to bring the dogs inside. Before I could get a leash on either of them, one jumped on me knocking my glasses flying and the other bolted out the kennel door. Those hunting dogs spent a glorious day hunting, while I lay on the sofa and cried because my beautiful doggies were lost. They came home wet and muddy when they got hungry. This jail break inspired us to get the last of the fence up.
With the acre surrounded by a six foot fence, the dogs could be loose in the yard. We took down the cages around the fruit trees and Hubby brought home more goldfish from the pet store. We sat at the dinner table watching the fish in the pond and tossing bits of our dinner to the dogs.
Life passed peacefully with the deer outside our fence and the dogs inside until Hubby looked out the living room window and yelled. The dogs broke into a barking frenzy and ran out. The great blue heron flapped up into a tree with a fish in his mouth. The dogs stood on the ground and barked at him.
I finally decided Harry the heron must have a mate on a nest nearby. Harry hung out in our yard, occasionally carrying off a six inch goldfish. We put up a heron statue because we’d read that blue herons are territorial and will avoid a heron statue. Harry would hunker down companionably next to the statue and pull his neck down into his shoulders until his beak rested on his chest. We’d find him there early in the morning. Harry seemed to know when the dogs took their nap, and he’d take one too, next to the statue by the pond.
When Harry wasn’t sleeping next to the statue or carrying goldfish to his mate on the nest, he didn’t have much to do until he discovered that the poodles would play with him. He’d hide until I let the dogs out, then he’d sweep through the yard about fifteen feet off the ground. The dogs would chase after him, leaping and barking. The three of them could keep this game up for hours with the flapping wings and barking dogs. Occasionally Harry would disappear for a while then he’d be back circling the house about five feet off the ground until the poodles came outside, then they’d start the barking chasing game all over, running and circling back through the gardens until I’d be almost frantic with the barking and flapping. Some days I took the dogs for a car ride, just to get them away from the annoying bird. This didn’t feel like winning the war.
Still wanting birds and butterflies—well not birds with five foot wingspans—I hung up a hummingbird feeder and waited for the humming birds to come like in the magazines where fifty jewel-toned hummers would flock to a feeder. Hummy arrived and drank from the feeder, then perched on a branch nearby. Another humming bird approached, and Hummy shot from his branch like a missile toward his target. Alas, our local hummingbirds are territorial and will drive off even their own mate and children. We get one hummingbird per feeder, if we place the feeder where the birds can’t see each other. It’s a bit like raising preschoolers. Hummy turned out to be a sweet little fellow. Whenever I, the-human-who-brings-sugar-water, go out to garden, Hummy flies right up to my face, gives a little chirp and flies off to watch what I’m doing. He seems to approve of all the fuchsia and abutilon I plant for him. He hangs around wherever I’m working, occasionally chirping his approval.
We enlarged the pond, placing more rocks around the edge and encouraging the willow that volunteered at one end. The pond developed mud in the bottom giving the goldfish someplace to hide. The ferns grew and flourished, becoming huge enough to provide significant shelter at one end of the pond.
What we call a lawn is really just a bunch of low growing plants including baby tears, ajuga, violets and some native grass that must be mowed occasionally. One warm morning Hubby fired up the riding lawnmower and set forth to mow the lawn. He came in before finishing and sat down.
I looked at him. “Are you okay?”
“I just ran over a snake—a big one. It was close to three feet. I didn’t see it until after I’d run over it. Then I didn’t know what to do about an injured snake.”
“Where was it?”
“Out by the pond.”
“Figures. I guess you best get a shovel or an axe and cut its head off to put it out of its misery.”
When Hubby returned from dispatching the harmless garter snake, he said, “I’m not surprised that we have a snake by the pond. We’ve got pollywogs in there.”
“Oh pollywogs. I love them. I hope we get lots of frogs. I love the sound of the spring peepers. Wouldn’t a bullfrog sound wonderful.” I imagined a chorus of frogs. “By the way, the bird feeders are empty. Better fill them.”
“I just filled them two days ago.”
“I know, but the birds empty them every two days. That reminds me, we need to pick up another hundred pounds of bird seed.” I pulled on my garden gloves. “I have garden workers coming next week. I think I’ll tell them to put any snakes they find over the fence into the woods.”
“Won’t they just crawl back?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. But, it’s just so awful running over them with the mower.”
I went out and found a dead rat next to my wheelbarrow and wondered if the cat had gotten it or if the dogs had. I praised all my pets and buried the dead rat. The dogs wagged their tails and the cat watched from under a bush.
The next day, I found two dead rats on the patio. Good dogs. Good kitty. Later that day I found a half eaten mouse beside my bed. “Good kitty. You’re a good hunter.” I disposed of the dead mouse.
The raspberries started to get ripe. I discovered the poodles liked to pick and eat raspberries. I didn’t mind them eating the few ripe raspberries on the lower branches. They would go with me to the garden every morning to see how ripe the raspberries were. The dogs seemed to like the berries just a little more tart than I do. Still, the main crop wasn’t ripe yet. The dogs started to sniff the sugar content of the raspberries several times a day, occasionally eating one when it was ripe enough. I started washing my canning equipment to make raspberry jam.
My morning routine now included removing dead mice from my bedroom, and dead rats from the patio then going out to check the sugar content of the raspberries. I rearranged my schedule to make jam the day after next and went out to pick a few raspberries for my breakfast. The poodles pranced beside me, tails wagging as we all anticipated a sweet morning treat. The dogs bounded ahead and I heard a low growl. The dogs began to circle the raspberry patch growling. My eyes darted over the decimation that met me. The canes were broken and crushed. I lifted a broken cane and found it devoid of berries. The dogs continued to sniff and growl. I thought there might still be a marauding raccoon in the berry patch but the dogs left the patch to sniff their way through the orchard towards the woods.
I forgot my breakfast and spent my morning cutting back broken canes, while the dogs snuffled and dug in the woody corner of my garden.
The weather turned warm. The polliwogs began to sprout legs. The plums began to get ripe. The dogs and I began morning excursions to check the sugar content of the plums. Once again, I noticed the poodles eating the plums they could reach when the sugar content was lower than I like, but the dogs were happy.
With a fence to protect the orchard at night, the dogs now slept inside on the sofas. At one in the morning, just before the plums were ripe, one poodle started to bark and scrabble toward the door to go out. The other poodle bayed like a coon-hound. Hubby rolled out of bed, grabbed a flashlight, and ran to see what upset the dogs. The first dog got the door open, and followed by his baying brother, raced toward the plum tree.
The only shoes Hubby could find at the moment were his cowboy boots. Wearing his boots, and undershorts, Hubby charged toward the plum tree armed with his flashlight. He returned shortly. “The dogs have treed a bunch of raccoons.” He dug through the closet for his Red Rider BB gun. Now, armed with his Red Rider he looked almost like a figure from the wild west as he strode manfully back toward the plum tree still in his undershorts and cowboy boots.
As Hubby reached the orchard, the young plum tree broke under the weight of the raccoons. The poodles were waiting on the ground. Hubby struggled to shine his light on the raccoons and take aim with his trusty Red Rider. The night descended into hissing, and growls punctuated by a crack and pops as the broken tree fell between the poodles. One dog grabbed a raccoon by the neck. The other leapt to the aid of his brother by grabbing the raccoon by the tail. While Hubby plinked at confused raccoons with his Red Rider, the dogs worked to dispatch their prey.
Raccoons are tough animals. The two dogs fought their enemy for twenty minutes in a battle that raged back and forth across our acre and included incursions into the pond. The remainder of the raccoon pack gave Hubby the finger as he continued to hit them with BBs from Trusty Red Rider.
At last, quiet descended. The score now stood at one broken plum tree, and one dead raccoon. The poodles nudged each other and wagged their tails as they trailed pond water into the house and hopped up on the sofas to relive their hunt in their dreams.
We all slept late after being up in the middle of the night battling raccoons. When I did get up, I disposed of the dead vole in my shoe and stepped on a dead bird in the bathroom, then I went to check on my poor tree. Sickened by the sight of the poor broken baby, I came into the house and made myself a cup of hot chocolate for solace. I took my cocoa and went to sit on the bench by my pond in hopes my sense of peace would be restored. I sat. The morning sun had grown warm. I sipped and tried to focus on peace and life.
A disturbance in the water drew my eyes to the pond. I scowled. What was happening in there? I made out three goldfish surrounding something. I looked closer. Three goldfish had captured a polliwog and were eating him alive.