Monday, October 17, 2016

Another Autumn in Exile

The former "Stump Henge," now filled in to create "Woody's Garden"

As I watch the fuzz-tailed tree rats rummaging in our newly installed raised bed (we filled up "Stump Henge" with compost and mulch, and have planted a few things therein), I realize just how not-cute squirrels really are. They eat our pears before they're anywhere near ripe, and nibble on baby pecans and spit out what they don't like, littering the ground with sticky crumbles of unripe nuts.  They bury more mature nuts and acorns all over the yard, necessitating difficult (for me) removal after the infant trees have sprouted (said squirrels having forgotten where they planted they're winter stores).

Yes, they do also dance and frolic and have amusing sex, but they're essentially a general nuisance. Not, perhaps as much as are the mice we still haven't completely eradicated, despite the elaborate treats The Beloved Spouse baits our Havahart traps with (peanut butter and bananas, or almond butter and cat kibbles). Although actually mice, these critters are the size of small Chicago rats. We've exiled quite a few, to a forested area several miles away, but some have evaded capture. Mrs. Peel, the resident mouser, seems not to frighten them in the least, and has been known to watch them scurry by without a twitch on her part. I did, however, observe her making a lame attempt at chasing a squirrel a few days ago, which accomplished nothing but did afford her a bit of exercise. What backyard wildlife advocates don't always tell you is that feeding birds often attracts other varmints, and unless you confine your feeding to specific species with diets unattractive to rodents (finches who like niger seed, for example), placing feeders near one's house is not recommended for tender-hearted folk like us who are ethically unable to poison cute, furry little mammals, no matter how annoying they are.

As I've mentioned before, our "House Clock" marks the Autumnal Equinox when the sunrise no longer sheds direct light through the east-facing dining room window (although it took a day longer than it should), and this year I noticed for the first time that for a few days around the equinox sunlight reaches all the way from the front door, through the sitting room, central hallway, and study onto my William Morris-focused bookshelf at the very back of the house--thus illuminating Morris and the Pre-raphaelites nicely.

Upon researching the answer to a question that came up at tennis practice (TBS is the assistant coach at his college, and some of the players are from the southern hemisphere), I discovered that contrary to popular belief around here, equinoxes and solstices do not necessarily mark the beginnings of seasons in the rest of the world. In fact,  Cecil Adams, in a column for The Straight Dope, notes that even in the northern hemisphere we don't all agree on when seasons begin and end.  But regardless of what measure we use, by October in North Texas, as my father would say, "fall has fell." Stuff is turning brown, hundred-degree days are gone, the Monarchs are migrating, fall flowers are blooming (attracting the Monarchs), and the quality of daylight is beginning to change. For reasons I don't quite understand daylight savings time is lasting an extra week this year, but I wish they'd just keep it year round.

The weather is also co-operating, with pleasant temperatures, occasionally crisp air, and just the right amount of rain. I mow the lawn in front to keep up appearances, but will probably let the back go until the leaves are down and ready to be mulched in. The mozzies are still around, though, which means that I have to spray down if I want to sit out with the animals, but I'll have to wait until the first freeze before I can do without the Deet. As awful as I know that stuff is, it's the only thing besides Picaridin that will keep the blood-suckers off me. Picaridin is the lesser of evils, but hard to find. I found one unscented brand that only comes in a pump spray--and is thus difficult to apply where I need it. I forgot to check the label of another brand I found recently, and bought it before I realized that it smelled like the cologne of a former colleague. The plant-oil based repellents don't work very well, and smell to high heaven of eucalyptus and other lingering odors.

But fall is filled with a kind of promise--not just of dark, frigid winter days, but of cozy fires, soup, bread-baking, and if I get my planting done, a better garden next spring. Now that I don't have my compressed academic calendar to regulate my days, I can pay closer attention to phenological information (such as the Monarch migration, which I'm not sure I've ever noticed before). And because I'm not teaching, I can enjoy the fact that the Cubs are in the playoffs without keeping MLB At Bat open on my phone during lectures. Last night's Full Hunter's Moon, and next month's Full Beaver Moon (November 14) promise celestial entertainment that even the glaring white light from the new house in back, or the so-called "soft lighting" in the trees next door will do much to diminish.

And even as I ponder the possibility of leaving for better weather, fewer trees, and fewer squirrels, the probability of permanent exile doesn't feel quite as oppressive as it once did. If the election doesn't bring on the apocalypse, a few well-planted trees along the back fence and a couple of trips to the desert might well obliterate the neighbor-instigated irritations, if not the squirrels.


desertsandbeyond said...

I completely understand your feelings toward "varmits". I've had mice chew on my lead ropes to the point I have had to throw them away. One chewed the padding on one of my saddles! This is up at the horse ranch. Of course, the place is overrun also by ground squirrels and there are holes EVERYWHERE! The owner won't get a cat (it would be overwhelmed anyway)...

Here at home, I DO have a female feral cat who visits the yard and she DOES catch critters. Also, her brother had a rat in his mouth one time, so it is nice to have them around. I DID spot one ground squirrel, so apparently they are now both slackers!

I do make up a mosquito spray using lemon eucalyptus. One visit to Devil's Postpile, I used OFF and I couldn't WAIT to get that stuff OFF me! Never again...I now prefer my own sprays instead of that commercial poison!

I'm not really sure how/when autumn starts, but I notice here in the desert, the angle of the sun is different and the afternoons are much more yellow. Also, our mornings are cooler. No more 80 degree mornings! Now temps are down in the 60's. The horses get their winter, fuzzy coats.
Take care.
Cheryl Ann

Owlfarmer said...

I'm seriously amused by and sympathetic to your critter problems. The most damage mice do at our house is to books; they've essentially eaten off the covers of my Loeb Greek Anthology volumes (leftovers from my years as a classical scholar). The population has dwindled significantly, but we still spot them occasionally, and can't uncover the cat's dry food. She's learning how to eat on a schedule rather than on whim.

I'm glad you can get by with your lemon-eucalyptus bug repellent. Unfortunately, I have to take warfarin to keep my fake valve from clotting up, so I attract mosquitoes more than most. I'm also really sensitive to smells--even pleasant ones--kind of like earworms, only for my nose. So unscented DEET or Picaridin preparations are really my only choice. But 7% DEET works pretty well, and Picaridin isn't as chemically awful, so unless somebody can come up with a non-odorous environmentally safe alternative, I'm stuck.

desertsandbeyond said...

Oh, gosh...I'm sorry to hear that. You have to do whatever you have to do to keep those dang mosquitoes away! I HATE THEM!

Yes, Obsidian Dome Road is an actual road. It is, if I remember correctly, right before you go up the hill to the June Lake loop road. I think Pumice Mine Road is right across from it. We haven't driven down that road yet. It is a nice dirt road. You won't have any problem driving down IS, however, VERY dusty! If you hit it just right in the afternoon, the obsidian shines in the sunlight. Really a nice visit! I do hope you can see it sometime.

desertsandbeyond said...

Here's the YELP link to Obsidian Dome Road.