Was it the animals' garden, or mine?
I am not an adventurous person. I have never been on safari or even to Alaska. Despite the fact that I immigrated to America from Russia, I do not like changes. Yet, moving beyond the city limits was my idea.
Our new house sat on the edge of a woody bluff, and a creek ran below our property, dividing us from the city where we had lived before.
As soon as we finished arranging furniture, I turned my energy to the yard. I started by reading gardening books, and then I attended a short landscape design course. Soon a strange metamorphosis took place in my life. The only subject that interested me now was gardening, and I spent most of my free time in the yard - digging, mulching, and watering.
The depth of my obsession took my husband by surprise. In his opinion, gardening was laborious and boring. His passion was wildlife.
"Would you like to go bird-watching?" he asked me one morning while I was contemplating my gardening tasks for the day.
"Are you kidding me?" I wanted to say. "I'm busy."
Instead, I took a deep breath and said "Sure, darling," and we spent three hours driving around a state park's wetlands.
I didn't mind the wildlife that I could watch from the car. It was the wildlife on our property that I felt uneasy about. Birds ranged from tiny hummingbirds to large wild turkeys. Animals - red foxes, woodchucks, does with their fawns and lonely bucks - seemed to have come from my childhood memories of visiting Moscow's zoo.
Soon my backyard encounters became more intense. One day I stepped out on the deck and saw a large, black snake climbing a tree. My father-in-law, who heard me scream, hurried to my rescue. Speechless, I pointed to the tree, but instead of being concerned, he was excited. He had never seen snakes climb trees before. So I had to get my camera and take a picture, which, according to him, was going to be a hit with National Geographic.
Another time - it was late and I was alone in the house - noises coming from our basement interrupted my reading. I went downstairs, turned on the lights, and my hair stood up on the back of my neck. A dark figure was leaning against the glass door to the basement. Its hairy arms were raised, its head was pressed tightly to the glass, and its eyes ominously glared in the dark. Just before I started to faint, the creature squatted down and turned, showing its striped furry tail. Then the raccoon was gone.
Nobody had the time to share my anxieties. My husband spent his free time creating a bird sanctuary on our property. I actually liked that idea, since if we had birds in our own backyard, we wouldn't have to drive somewhere else to watch them.
Together we bought a nice bird feeder and attached it to a tree. I also bought a birdbath. Not that I worried about birds' hygiene; it just looked lovely. Besides, birdbaths were a popular feature in my landscaping books.
The feeder turned out to be a hit, especially with the squirrels. We moved the feeder from the tree to a metal hook, which my husband greased with Vaseline, and installed a squirrel baffle underneath.
Next came a large squirrel-proof bird feeder. It had a spring-loaded platform that closed the feeding portals when squirrels sat on the perch. For a week, we enjoyed our victory, but soon birdseed started to disappear overnight. One morning I looked out the window and saw a large raccoon clinging to the bird feeder upside down, eating seeds without even touching the platform. Furious, I opened the window and shouted at him - an act my father-in-law never forgave me for, since I missed a chance to take another picture for National Geographic.
Then another pressing matter called for my attention. Deer stripped bark from the bottoms of our newly planted apple trees. They also destroyed most of my flowers and bushes. I bought new ones that deer are supposed to dislike. The result was still devastation.
I tried any folk remedy known to my friends and co-workers. For several weeks all our trees and bushes were decorated with soap. Next, I put out mothballs, which were as unsuccessful as the soap but much stronger-smelling. Then I mulched my plants with human hair sprinkled with after-shave and bathed them in commercial deer repellents. Everything was useless.
Finally, we had to fence off our trees, shrubs, and flowers. Now the yard looked like a plant prison. I was disappointed.
"You don't like it here anymore, do you?" my husband asked one day.
His question surprised me. "No," I wanted to say. "I just want to grow flowers, and I don't care for raccoons and deer. I like having woods around, but I don't want anything lurking there. I want...."
All of a sudden, it hit me. I wanted my surroundings to look like pictures in my gardening books. Better yet, I wanted them to be those pictures! Nice, serene ... still. And I started to laugh.
Five years have passed since we moved into this house. Often, as we sit on the deck just before dusk, we see deer run along the tree line. I enjoy watching their graceful silhouettes against the setting sun. I think about an old Russian proverb, "It is not the place that makes a person, it is the person who makes the place."
In my case, it is both.