Deer Neighbors

Deer near our yard

The phone rang this morning about 8 a.m., and it was our neighbor Mary, calling my attention to a deer in the wild brush behind her yard. I came outside and walked behind our garage, to the edge of our yard, near where Margy had cleared bittersweet from all over the crabapple trees in the wild area. Mary had said it was a small deer, so I was surprised to see what seemed to me a rather large animal with antlers. He didn’t startle, but calmly looked at me, as I took photos from several yards away.  After a few minutes,  he slowly turned and disappeared into the bushes.

So beautiful! I had once seen a deer the first year we moved here, and that winter we also noticed some tracks in the snow, but we hadn’t seen any in our yard since then.  (However, Margy mentioned she has seen some deep in the undeveloped wild areas.) Of course, it has stirred up mixed feelings to see or not see them. We love our wildlife neighbors, but have also been concerned about our fruit trees.  The year we planted our first trees, I put up a fine fishing line thread between metal poles, at the back and side of the orchard, because I read that deer don’t like barriers that they can’t see clearly. So it was meant to be a gentle deterrent, and I haven’t taken it down, though this summer the line had sagged to about a foot above the ground.

And perhaps, this clears up a mystery that developed several days ago.  Earlier last week, I noticed that the ends of some branches on one of our cherry trees seemed to have been bitten off–just four branches in one area of one tree with their tips clean gone.  You might notice it in the center of the photo below. I also noticed the top bitten off of a raspberry shoot that had sprouted near our wood chip pile. I’ve been trying to figure out what might have done it, and I think maybe we have our culprit. Thankfully, he didn’t eat any more of anything. I’ve re-stretched the fishing line “fence” to see if that helps.

Cherry branches bitten off

We never know what adventures we’ll find in our backyard.  The other evening, during dusk, Margy saw a beautiful skunk wandering across the back of the yard.  I’ve seen a few holes in the garden where it came digging for grubs in the night.  Mostly, these days, we have scores of small birds who love to perch on branches and even tall flower stalks in the orchard, and peck for bugs in the mulch.

And can I say, finally, that I love that we have a dear neighbor who calls us to report a deer sighting!

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Turkey Sunrise

Turkey in top of pines

This morning, as the sun was rising, I saw a huge bird shape in the top of the white pines at the very back of our yard. I went outside to see what it was. Looking closer, I saw that it was a turkey, and in fact, there were several turkeys perched high in trees all around us. How my heart is warmed and excited by the fellow beings who visit us here on this land!

Turkey in pines close

Then I noticed that there were half a dozen turkeys on the ground behind me, near our ornamental crabapple trees.  Over the next 10 minutes, one by one, the turkeys in the trees flew gracefully down to the ground. They were mostly too quick for me to capture them in flight, though I caught this one as it approached the ground in a blur.Turkey in flight

Finally, the whole clan of turkeys gathered together and ambled toward the underbrush near the pines. I too started on my walk to the brook and around the neighborhood. In the midst of all that we face in the coming years, I pray that there will always be animal and plant neighbors whose daily lives bring us joy. I pray that we won’t forget to notice and appreciate them.

Turkey clan

Squirrel Highway

Squirrel PathOne thing I love about the snow is how it reveals the lives of our animal neighbors. Here is a squirrel highway, a path between two mounds.  Now, I had actually helped to create that path the day before, before the snow.  The day before that, Margy got a call from a local arborist that he had some wood chips we could have.  For permaculture gardeners, wood chips are a boon, especially hardwood chips, especially lamial hardwood chips, which are from the small branches and leaves of the tree. They provide nutrients to help create the kind of soil that is best for fruit trees.

It seems ironic, because I don’t want trees to be cut down. But there is a circle of giving and receiving we humans have with trees, and when they are cut down, it feels so respectful to use their remains to feed other young trees and plants.  It had been a difficult year to get any wood chips.  The arborists we knew were mostly cutting diseased trees, which wouldn’t be good to introduce to the garden. So when Margy got the call, she said yes right away.

Wood ChipsSo the wood chips were delivered. The next day I noticed that where the big pile landed had kind of blocked off the pathway on the edge of the food forest.  Last winter, I had strung a small string across the edges of the food forest as a gentle deterrent to deer who might possibly wander through. We had seen deer tracks before, though we didn’t actually see any last winter.  But the idea was to leave one area free for them to traverse, hoping they’d choose that path on the way between the street and the back of the yard.

So what to do?  I went out with a shovel and cleared an area between the wood chip pile and the finished compost pile (covered with a blue tarp), shoveling compost back a little, and wood chips back a little.  That made the path.  I don’t know if any deer will use it, but it was fun to see that the squirrels got the message.

Opossum sighting

Opossum

The photo came out a little blurry, but I was delighted to catch a glimpse of this little opossum neighbor, while I was sitting in the screen tent a few mornings ago. When it saw me, it speeded up its walk near the underbrush at the back corner of our yard. I understand that opossums eat ticks, among many other things, so I was glad to see it our neighborhood.

Reading more about them, I learned that they can also eat food from bird feeders and fruit trees.  They are nocturnal.  It will be an interesting balancing act–we intend to grow food for ourselves, yet we also love the critters that show up in this space we share. But perhaps that is the heart of the question–how do we live as neighbors in this land, rather than colonizers/occupiers/dominators?  How do we care for our own needs, while also caring for the needs of other beings on this earth?

Boundaries

Boundary

[The side boundary two weeks ago.]

Boundaries in land are something of a legal fiction.  The land can’t really be owned by anyone.  But they do matter, because we can only protect the land that is within the boundaries identified as “ours” by pieces of paper.

The other day, a neighbor who lives to the side of the back of our yard mentioned that they might want to put in a fence.  We were alarmed that they might cut some trees, but then they said they were not planning to do that.  But they got a little riled by our asking about the trees.

The thing is, we didn’t get a chance to say this, but we had thought that the trees between our properties were on water district land, because our deed identifies our boundary as bordering on water district land.  [You can see the line of trees and bushes behind our compost bins in this photo from two weeks ago.]  But today I did some research and discovered that their deed in fact includes at least some of the water district land, and perhaps might come right up to ours.

It is all both explicit and very vague on our deed, especially in reference to the back half–because it refers to the old Portland Gardens plan.  For example, where that part of our land begins is stated to be about 99 feet across, while the back line of our property is stated to be 161 feet across.  But it is unclear exactly how and where it is anchored or where it expands–it doesn’t correspond to what was mowed as lawn.  (And it would cost thousands to get a survey, we were told.)  And if you look on the current tax map, the water district land seems to be 53 feet across between the properties.  But I don’t see how there are that many feet between us, even if all the “hedge row” is included.

However, the deed for the neighbor’s yard cites an iron pipe at the corner boundary next to their road, and then “83.31 feet to an iron pipe and land now or formerly of the Portland Water District.”  The wording is odd–but I found an earlier deed that ceded some 56 feet of PWD land (on that side) to that parcel–and it makes sense, they couldn’t have built a house on the land without it.  Then it angles back to a narrow point further back.  Sometimes I wonder if it is all something of a fiction–maybe the plan for Portland Gardens didn’t really match the actual land, and nobody actually has the number of feet listed.

But all day today I have been worried about the trees.  The black cherry and the cedar.  The ones I haven’t learned the names of yet.  We love the trees for themselves, and also for the privacy they create in this place during the summer.  Margy has spent a lot of time cutting down bittersweet from these trees.  And I’ve been wondering where the boundary really is.  There is too much snow right now to hunt for that iron pipe.  But I surely will as soon as enough has melted.  It all feels so vulnerable.

Little Neighbor

Skunk

Look closely. Surprised to see her in the light of day, but I think this skunk was trying to make her way home, much to the chagrin of our neighbor’s dog.  I don’t know if this is my gardening friend from last summer, but if not, I would guess it is a family member. She (or he?) is following her own corridor–how important these small stands of trees and shrubs are for our animal neighbors. But as to where she was headed–strange–under a fence or under a deck? Right into our human neighbor’s yard.

There were also some strange tracks in the snow two days ago in our yard.  Bigger than the usual squirrel tracks–now I think that maybe they were hers as well.  Margy took this photo. I read that skunks are rather inactive in winter, though not true hibernators.  But they begin to be more active, looking for a mate in spring.

tracks

Tracks by Margy Dowzer

Creating the Beloved Community

When Jesus talked about the importance of loving our neighbor, someone asked him, “Who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told the story we now call the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

A traveler was walking on the road to Jericho, and was attacked by bandits who robbed him and beat him and left him on the side of the road. A priest was walking down the road, and saw the man and went over to the other side. A lawyer also ignored the wounded man. But a Samaritan traveling on the same road saw the man, and was moved to compassion. He bound his wounds, and brought the man to an inn, where he continued to care for him overnight, and then paid the innkeeper to care for him as he went on his travels. Then Jesus turned the question around—“Who do you think was neighbor to the man?” The one who showed him compassion.

This story is made compelling by its social context. In the time when Jesus told the story, Samaritans and Jews generally held each other in contempt. They were enemies. Maybe something like Republicans and Democrats these days, only worse. Jesus made the Samaritan the hero of the story, and that certainly must have ruffled feathers. The story was a challenge to the lawyers and priests and their narrow definition of the circle of compassion. The story was a challenge to be neighbors with the people we don’t like, the people on the other side. To treat those neighbors with compassion.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.” In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

I want to acknowledge that in our age, it is easy to feel hopeless about this vision. It is easy to think of it as an idealistic dream of the sixties. Cynicism has risen, the right wing has fought back against the hopes so hard fought for by Dr. King and others. More and more we see a new individualism and polarization, an abandonment of the poor and vulnerable by those in power. The opposition has become more crafty and deceptive.

But, on some level, that makes no difference at all. The vision of nonviolence is not based on winning, though a victory for good fills us with joy. The vision of nonviolence is based on faithfulness and hope. As Dr. King said,

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

And so, in the midst of the conflict and trouble of our age, may we find the strength and courage to be practitioners of love. In the midst of selfishness and greed, may we find generosity and vision. In the midst of rancor and division, may we remember that we are all one people. May we behold and believe in the possibility of Beloved Community, and work steadfastly to open the doors that all may enter there in. May we always remember, as Dr. King reminded us,

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Heart Candle Flame DSC01573

Quotes from Dr. King from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age, December 1956, in A Testament of Hope, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and “Where Do We Go From Here,” a 1967 Speech.