We are at war. Not in Afghanistan, with the Taliban or the drug lords of South America. Not with the socialist left or the tea party right. No, ours is a very private war, conducted as one of attrition over years and years in and around the battlefield that is our house. Our opponent is the mother of all battlefield mothers, Mother Nature. Or more specifically, not with her as much as with her representatives.
We dealt first with the tanks, better know as the deer. We fenced off our plants, denying then an edible refuge in the lean months of winter. It took a few years to tweak our defenses as they are nothing if not relentless. But eventually we tightened the netting enough or added an extra post or a plank of wood that deterred them from turning our azaleas into nubbins. It's not that some plastic netting staple-gunned to a pole will actually stop a ravenous 200 pound doe. Rather, they eventually get annoyed with a mouth full of plastic and move on to the next opportunity. I'm proud to say that this year all plantings survived the cold and the foraging, enabling me to kill them myself by over fertilizing in the spring.
Of course, as any general knows, if you can't beat them head-on you work the margins. And indeed, the chipmunks came next. Readers of this space may recall my very public spat with one or more of these guerrillas as they undermined our newly re-laid flagstone walk. Looking out to find a pile of dust next to a crack in the stones lead me a network of tunnels that would have done a Stalag prisoner proud. We were not to be vanquished that easily, however. Last fall I picked up the stones and stuffed rocks and plastic gutter screens in their path. That held till just recently when a new pile emerged several feet away. My wife tried the same technique, a new Manginot Line which so far is holding. Should we see a breech in that fortification, we'll have to seriously consider the nuclear option, and go all cement on their asses.
And now it's the partisans' turn. We imagine they are raccoons, though they've never had the guts to show themselves. We just know that on nights where we use the grill on our deck, the next morning finds the cover astray and, to put it politely, piles of presents between the sliding glass door and the grill. We tried burning all the scrapings off the grates, emptying the grease catcher and cinching the cover tighter. No soap. It's gotten so that we have to look carefully before we slide open the screen and venture out lest we step on a, well, active mine.
My wife did some research, and found that, Geneva Convention aside, chemical warfare may be appropriate. Seems that raccoons are not terribly fond of ammonia. Either that, or the fumes disguise those of chicken with my special dry rub which we assume draws them to our place. In either case, we have a new routine, whereby after we cook and finish a delightful aromatic salad topped with feta cheese, cranberries and grilled anything, we defy the international community and lay down a withering splash of white NH3 as a potential deterrent. It seems to work. However we found some live rounds the other day, though we were unsure if we forgot to deploy our arsenal or not. One also wonders if, in some New Yorker cartoon version of our situation, there are two raccoons rooting around the grill, when one looks up and says," Hey! What are you doing? Do you have to do that on the deck? Can't you get out to the yard?!" And the other responds, "Sorry, I know it's gross, but whenever I smell ammonia I just can't hold it!"
So far we are maintaining our position. And defense is certainly easier than offense. But to be realistic, while we are the homesteaders right now, they were here first. And if the lesson of Vietnam taught us anything, it's that colonizers, however noble their ambitions, will lose in the end. If that's the case, and they do eventually drive us off their land, we can only hope that our superior economic and cultural system eventually wins out. Then perhaps our childrens' children will be invited to a barbeque as show of species solidarity, where they can see the remains of our home as a tribute to those battles long ago.
Marc Wollin of Bedford is debating when to take down the deer fencing this season. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/.