My Unsought Bargain With the Birds

About the time my vacuum cleaner quit on me again, I had become quite disillusioned with the wildlife in our yard. Sure, it was great that the birds sang and twittered around our bird feeders, that they splashed and cavorted in the bird bath.

But their way of showing appreciation seemed to be to augment their (expensive) birdseed diet with our blueberries and raspberries. Don't you think they could gobble down a few of the banana slugs chewing my day lilies into lace? No. They were plenty contented, thank you very much, with black-oil sunflower seeds and fresh fruit.

The vacuum-cleaner repairman flashed a "What on earth do you expect, lady?" look at my waist-long braid. He sighed, sounding like my Electrolux on reverse. "Hair. That's why your power-head keeps breaking down. Hair's not good."

That is how I came to wander my yard while I brushed my hair every morning, like some kind of land-locked Lorelei.

"Ingrates!" I muttered at the cavorting, berry-feasting winged beasts. I stopped to deter a few hosta-burping slugs. And then I saw it: several newly planted escallonia shrubs stripped down to bare green stubs, surrounded by unmistakable signs of deer.

I bounded into the house with newly discovered energy and yanked my gardening books out of the shelf, muttering, "Oh no you don't, Bambi! I will have my escallonia. This is war!"

What I read made me smile. Rather coincidentally, I found that human hair can sometimes deter plundering deer, and there I was, every morning, walking around and brushing my hair. Hmm.

I became an early-morning spinner of webs, wrapping, twisting and tying the hair from my brush around the stems and leaves of my favorite plants. As I wove, the cheerful chirps and twitters of our feathered foragers accompanied me.

"I'm not any too happy with you guys, either," I warned. "This relationship is all one-way: We give, you take. Some barter system!" But the grosbeaks, goldfinches, and wrens continued to feast and sing, bathe and flutter.

TIME went by. In spite of my clever hair deterrents, the deer continued to munch. "I think they're flossing their teeth with it," my husband volunteered. "While they're at the salad bar. Kind of convenient, I'd say." And the birds continued to strip our berry-bushes, wriggling under the netting without ruffling a feather.

"Maybe," I suggested to my husband one day, as he filled the bird feeders yet again, "if we didn't feed the birds they'd eat some slugs. I'll let them have the berries. If they'd just eat the slugs, I'd be happy."

"I don't think it would work," he said, shrugging. "They'd probably just leave."

One afternoon, Craig went out to weed the flower bed. When he came in, he brought me a present. "Look what I found in that huge mass of penstemons!"

"Wonderful!" I turned the nest in my hands, admiring it.

"Look in the light," Craig said. "There's a surprise especially for you."

"Huh?" I carried the nest to the window. And then I saw it. Gleaming amid the intricately woven bowl of twigs and stems and moss was one gleaming yard-long brown hair, wound round and round. Mine. I was as pleased as if I'd discovered my own face painted onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

It seems I had our barter agreement all wrong. It's not "food for slug patrol," it's "food for art!"

"OK," I said, speaking through the window glass to the fluttering hordes around the feeder. "I got it. Thanks. Bon apptt!"

Now, if I could just get the deer to develop a taste for escargot....

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