Sunday, June 12, 2011

Life and death in the garden


If you look very closely in the photo above, you can see a fledgling house sparrow that catapulted from one of my shrubs yesterday when my new little dachshund, Trevor, started snuffling around. I hadn't known there were any new babies in residence, or I wouldn't have let him into the backyard.

This one took off like a shot, hiding in the weedy area around my raised beds (future herb/native wildflower beds). It was so cute, tiny and fluffy, with a big yellow line around its beak (a feature of some baby birds -- the extra outline helps the parents hit the right "target" every time they bring food to the nest, I guess).

Here it is scurrying away.


After I snapped a few photos I left the area, not wanting to terrify the poor little thing. Besides, the father was scolding me anxiously.


Here's Trevor still looking for his new "friend"--don't worry, they were on opposite sides of the fence.


Besides, as cute as the little sparrow was, I had other things on my mind. To whit, what am I going to do about this yard? It turns out that one invasive species on my hands is not enough; I was so focused on the bamboo, I didn't at first take notice of the carpet of English ivy (another fast-spreading, obnoxious foreign weed) that was beneath it. Indeed, if you look carefully at the Trevor photo, you can see some tendrils of English ivy sprouting up through the grass. (Greenturtle mowed today, so that took care of those!)

And speaking of the bamboo, check out this new shoot!


To recap on how quickly this stuff spreads, that shoot came up to that height in a matter of DAYS. I literally have to go out every three or four days with my garden clippers and look for new "escapees." That's kind of fun, though, compared to trying to reclaim a bit of my yard from the alien invaders.

This is a shot of the area I thinned out last week.


It's a relatively small area, and I was hoping to at least clear out the bamboo stumps and ivy, maybe dig down enough to yank out some runners, and then be able to sow a little grass seed on top. It will be a while before we can afford a nice privacy fence -- and until then, per the Bamboo Compromise, I am leaving most of it up as a privacy screen -- but I'd feel like I had accomplished a first step if I can at least clear out this area.


So I got out my spade and prepared to wreak some havoc! Nuh-uh, nothing doing. Maybe it's my weak little arms (the most exercise they've gotten in months is lifting my binoculars on birding jaunts), but it wasn't working. Or...maybe it was the mat of English ivy on top of everything. The criss-crossing of the vines and tendrils made for quite the barrier, so I got out my shears and snip, snip, snip. (Alas, spiders LOVE English ivy...and I loathe spiders...so this task is not fun at all for me.)

After I'd snipped enough out of the way, I saw the additional mat beneath it of previously chopped bamboo. The old owners had just cut them down, snipped the culms into little pieces, and just left it all there, rising up in little towers anywhere from two to three inches to half a foot or more high. (And please, whatever you do, don't step on this crap accidentally wearing sandals! Learn from my mistake! Uncontrollable four-letter word alert!)

So, I got out my bigger shears, the ones I use for saplings and such, and starting cutting. Hey, maybe I will build up some arm muscles before this is through.


So far, I have barely made any progress at all. In a spirit of complete disclosure, I must admit that the only digging at all has been accomplished by Trevor, who has no idea what I am trying to do but is eager to help nonetheless. He happily chomps on cut bamboo culms, and digs with utter abandon as soon as he sees me apply the trowel.

Here he is, on the hunt for some noxious weeds.


"Wait, I think I've found some!"


It's hard getting a photo of him when he's not sniffing for stuff--in this one, he has his eyes closed! (So, it's not just people who blink just when you're taking the picture.)


Maybe I'd make more progress on the bamboo and ivy mess if I wasn't busy taking photos of my dog!

In all seriousness, I do lack a sense of urgency on the bamboo project. Besides making sure that no new shoots last for more than a few days, this is a long term project, so if I dig up my backyard too early, I'll just have to look at the mess....

So this weekend I decided to focus on weed removal from the non-bamboo part of my yard, in and around the raised beds, pushing through the gravel, crowding up through the walkways. Weed removal is an awesome project if you want a sense of immediate gratification. Pull, yank, grab, remove--after a few hours of this, you can see some real progress!

Unfortunately, this morning as I was working on the area in the first photos (the ones with the fledgling)...I found it. The fledgling. It was not alive. Actually, I only found the bottom half of it.... It looked like the death had happened quite recently.

At first, I just stared. The top half was sheered clean off, and anything internal was missing. But I could still see its pathetic little feet. (Aren't you glad I didn't run for the camera? Luckily for all I overcame my impulse to digitally document everything that I find!)

It was fine yesterday...in fact, I knew it had flown into the neighbor's yard, because I heard them calling out to watch out for the baby bird as they played volleyball. And then it must have gone back into my yard...and met its fate.

From what? I stared for a while, watching the ants crawling across the mutilated corpse, and wondered what on earth could have happened. Not Trevor...he has an alibi! (He is only allowed off-leash in the fenced portion of the yard, and this was in the non-fenced area..and Greenturtle, who walked him this morning, swears for his good behavior.) It could have been a cat...but I haven't seen one in the immediate neighborhood. My neighbor's dog (a cute Boston terrier mix) is not allowed to roam. I haven't seen any hawks around. There are a few free-roaming dogs from the other end of the alley, though I've never seen them in my yard.

I removed the remains, and continued with the weeding, trying to forget about the tiny corpse. But, it bothers me. My goal is to create an avian haven, and meanwhile baby birds are dying in my yard? Intellectually, I know that this happens.... In fact, it happens to a lot (if not most) baby birds. And it was a house sparrow, hardly a rare species, in fact another type of alien invader, if the truth be known. I still didn't like it, though.

But, as the saying goes, $h!t happens. Or, a bit more eloquently, death is a part of life. Right now, looking out my back window, I see cardinals and robins, and a profusion of greenery (a lot of it bamboo, arrghh!) And meanwhile, with all my weeding and pulling, I am inflicting death in a way. Granted, of plants, and the goal of all the plant-death is to create space for even more abundant life, but in the short term, all I have to show for it is a pile of plant corpses....


It's hard to comprehend, looking at the corpse of a baby bird. But still, I understand that there is a cycle, a greater pattern at work here. I want to work with it to bring forth my native plants garden/avian haven, but no matter what I do, death will lurk in the shadows. It's just the way life is.

And speaking of life, as I pulled and yanked at the weeds, I did wonder from time to time if a little splash of herbicide might be in order. At least for me, the answer is no. After all, no matter the time-saving, no matter how "safe" anyone says it is...Round-Up and all similar products are poisons. Skull and crossbones stuff. And even if it's relatively safe (frankly, I don't believe anything Monsanto tells me--check out this link for just the latest I've heard to the contrary, and thanks to Darya Pino and her healthy eating website Summer Tomato for pointing it out), the only reason to use it would be for my own convenience.

And, dead fledglings aside, my yard is bursting with life. I have seen, in addition to the many robins, grackles, and house sparrows, and their young, three types of butterfly--viceroy, buckeye, and swallowtail--plus innumerable worms, grubs, spiders, ants (bird food!), and today, as I weeded, ladybugs. Not the nasty, biting imported Japanese ladybugs. The real, American kind! And there is no way in H-E-double-hockeysticks I am going to "Round Up" them! (I know it's an herbicide but would it leave the ladybugs as they are? I doubt it. Not to mention what it might do to robins scratching in the leaf litter...or Trevor licking his paws after he walked past...there will be NO pesticides here!)

As a final note, I talked to one of my neighbors today, an older man who was very polite about Trevor's barking (he is lucky he's so cute...or else people are too polite to say, "You have one annoying little dog" !! -- yes, we love him, but he does think it's his job to announce, vociferously, if anyone is anywhere near our yard) ... I asked him if he had problems controlling the bamboo, and he said it all started out, twenty years ago, as a privacy screen for HIS yard!

I will say, I was polite.... I did not tell him what I think of bamboo. But now I know a bit more about the tragic history of a Good Yard Gone Bad.

If you have read all the way down to the bottom...thank you! Do you battle invasive plants in your yard? How do you deal with these little intimations of mortality that cross our paths?

And on a happier note, do you have a dog? What's its name?

1 comment:

  1. Love the photos of your handsome little garden helper! It is saddening to find a little life lost. I know death makes room for the babies that live, and the ones that come after, but I wish there were a better way. I remember a granddaughter telling me, after we found a dead bird, that she didn't like Nature so much anymore. On the other hand, your yard IS full of life and liveliness. Sorry about your invaders! At least you have Trevor to give you a hand...er...I mean, four paws! Mom

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