Weed this and reap

This summer has been an unmitigated disaster, yard-wise. In fact, I’m pretty sure my neighborhood association is on a vicious crusade to make me feel really, really bad about myself, what with all the talk in the newsletter of “grass needs to be no more than 8 inches high” this and “don’t obscure your front windows with wild untrimmed hedges” that.


It’s not my fault the weather this year has caused an explosion of plants and weeds of nuclear, if not Biblical, proportions. Thistles as thick as my arm. Queen Anne’s Lace that I could actually use to make an epic wedding dress, including veil. Morning glories adrift in the middle of the front lawn, if you can believe that.

Hot damnI lay the blame on the super-hot temperatures we had in late June and early July. It was, honest-to-God, 105 degrees in the Fahrenheit one Saturday afternoon, and that pretty much killed any grass-like foliage I had growing both in front of and behind my house. Thus ensued Bare Spots, in which the dormant weeds, awakened by the monsoons rains which followed the HtG 105-degree weather, flourished.

My yard, ya see, until about 2003, lay in the middle of a large pasture, undeveloped and uninhabited — unless you count the gophers. They’re still here, by the way. Groundhog Central. Anyway, this pasture land, ungrazed by any animal and untended by any farmer, fostered the growth of the aforementioned thistles and Queen Anne’s Lace undisturbed for centuries. I mean, Indians trod on my wild thistleland. Cave men tripped on my morning glory’s forebears. So when the grass gave up the ghost, the dormant seeds, undeterred by a couple years’ worth of sod laid atop it, sprang forth and stormed across my lawn like conquering warlords.

Matters were made worse by the absence of my yard boy for part of the summer, who also is known in some circles as my son Christopher. He was away quite a bit, and when he returned he had to go to band camp … eyeroll … sheesh, kids these days. So despite the fact that the drought made mowing unnecessary for most of the summer, when he returned — and then vanished as a mowing entity — the weed warlords saw their opportunity and set themselves upon world domination. Er, make that the domination of my yard. This whole matter had made me think quite apocalyptically. (Is too a word.)

But he did return, and he did mow, so the pampas grassland that formerly was my back yard now has settled back into its normal state of resembling the shorn head of of marine recruit. (See photo below; scrutiny of airborne progeny and boyfriend of eldest optional.)

Up up and away!

Another interesting phenomenon is the planter on my front porch, planted with some sad petunias, some subdued greenery, and one whoppin’ big example of a forage plant.

This big thing here, which sprouted and took off during the monsoon portion of the summer’s proceedings, I believe to be an example of the millet plant. Its arrival isn’t too much of a mystery; last summer this particular flower pot sweated it out in the brutal conditions on my back deck, near the bird feeder. The untidy birds, as birds are wont to do, scattered about as much seed around the deck as they ate, some of which accumulated in the planters. Last spring I just dumped in a little fresh potting soil along with the new plants and went about my business. If some of last year’s birdseed sprouted, I just plucked it as I always do. But this whopper escaped me, and it charged out of the planter with astonishing energy, resulting in the vigorous crop of one plant you see before you today.

I find it amusing, as a peculiar addition to the wild crop of everything I’ve got growing in my yard this year. Oh I could be weeding and tidying every waking moment that I’m not working or feeding my hungry huddled masses, but something tells me it wouldn’t make a vast amount of difference. So I embrace my embarrassing yard, and the neighborhood association can just get over itself. If the apocalypse truly does come, I’ll be able to feed my family! I’ve got a crop of millet!

I wonder if morning glories are any good on toast.

I scream like a girl

Unfortunately the Chez Soileau small-animal problem is continuing and, I am sad to report, has resulted in some uncharacteristic behavior on my part. Specifically, I stood on a tall kitchen chair wearing minuscule, high-heeled ankle-strap pumps (possibly with bows) and screamed for 45 minutes.

OK, it wasn’t a mouse and actually, I was wearing flats — but that’s not the point. One of the adorable rodents living high on the hog in my front garden and beneath the back deck has moved into my garage.

Now chipmunks, exposed and in the daylight, are not scary at all. In fact, they’re laughably benign, except where their garden-gnawing is concerned. But put one of these scampering suckers in a dark garage and you’ve got all the makings of full-on fright.

Take last Sunday. I descended into the garage via the three or four wooden, rail-less stairs. We’ve got a motion-sensor light in there, so usually the first step or two is in the dark. Such was the case on Sunday. Between step two and three, however, roughly at the exact time the light was going on, a scrabbling, scratching scurrying occurred right beneath my feet. That’s when I did it.

I screamed. I did. I screamed like a girl.

Tras, who was right behind me, seized my left arm in a manly grip. On the way to said grip, he managed to scratch a good-sized hole out of my left thumb. (OK, the mere term “scratch” more accurately describes this wound.) All this was in service to his dear wife, whom he thought had lost her footing and was about to plummet head-first two feet down the stairs and into a large bag of hair.

“I’m OK!” I shrieked, beginning the tippy-toe dance absolutely everyone does when confronted with scrabbly, scurrying animals. “It’s one of those damn chipmunks!”

This information sent young Trassie caroming back to my side from the further reaches of the garage on his way to the back seat of the car. “It’s all right, sweetie-pie,” I said. “He’s not going to hurt us. I’m all right. I was just …. surprised.”

This led to some not-so-muffled snickers from the Two Trasimonds.

But it also dislodged a confession from the elder of the two; appropriate since we were on our way to Mass. It seems he spent a semester living with a friend at another university while he took a semester or two off from his.

Like your typical slovenly college males, they lived in squalor in a trailer. One afternoon, what should emerge from a pile of some dank underwear (or maybe it was something else, I forget) but a large rat. The buddy, hilariously, immediately hopped up on a chair and began squealing like the aforementioned little girl.

What makes this story, though, is the conclusion. Upon seeing his friend, Tras started pointing and laughing hysterically at him for his girlie-girl behavior … right up until the time he noticed that he, himself, had leaped off the floor and onto the couch in his own girlie-girl spasm of rat-fright.

So this morning I’m walking down into the garage, wondering again if we still have our onerous little visitor. I pause at the landing. I cup a hand to my ear. And what should I hear but an audible, extremely distinct PLOP from somewhere near the garage door. And then the tell-tale scrabbling.

“THAT THING’S STILL OUT THERE!” I holler toward the other end of the house. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU” comes the reply.

Uggggggh. I punched the button on the garage-door opener, realizing that if the little bastard is indeed in the garage, the noise of the door going up is going to drive him back into the recesses of the garage, where he can hole up in the boat or, more probably, the bag of hair.

What happened next is something that makes me grateful that The Truman Show was a movie and not even remotely likely to occur in real life … that millions of people are daily tuned into The Ellen Show and laughing mercilessly at my ridiculous behavior.

“SHOO,” said I to the vicinity under the boat trailer. “Go away you ratty little chipmunk. Get. G’won, git. Git outta my garage, ya hear?”

In times of pique, I usually revert to talking like Granny Clampett.

I stomped further into the garage, opened the door of the Prius, slid behind the wheel and began backing out. And that’s when I noticed it.

The passenger side window. It was open.

Open. Open all night. In the garage. Where the chipmunk(s) was/were. One could be in this very Prius. Right this very minute.

Little girl? Check.

Scream? You know it.

As it turns out, jumping out of the car and doing the tippy-toe run around the vehicle doesn’t deter rodents any better than it scares away boogiemen who may or may not be creeping around the house when everyone else is in bed.

Further, running in a circle with your hands up in the hair going, “get out of the car you disgusting vermin!” probably wouldn’t flush any disgusting vermin out either. But then opening the trunk and slamming your hand down on the floor certainly doesn’t hurt your chances of dislodging them either.

Not that I would know, of course.

A bumper crop of bunnies

This morning I was up early. I drank my coffee, did my internet duty (did you know mandatory surfing is now the law? It’s not.) and hopped into my Sauconys for a hour-long walk.

An hour later I’m back at the computer, driven indoors by the rain. It’s been a dry couple of weeks, but earlier this spring it rained. And rained. And rained. And the most visible result of all this precipitation, in my yard at least, is a bumper crop of suburban bunnies.

The wet weather, it seems, with the attendant abundance of vegetation, has caused the cottontails to multiply. Multiply like rabbits.

Oh they’re cute. Cuuuuute. We love to watch them out back about an hour before dusk, when we’ve spotted as  many as five to seven of the darling things, bunnin’ around and generally being adorable.

See? Adorable.

But they’re also, you know, pests. They eat the aforementioned vegetation, which would include my sunflowers — if I’d planted them yet. They’re still on my windowsill, paralyzed by the fear of bunnies.

I’ve nurtured these shoots, and I’ll be damned if I let the rabbits chow down on them. Not to mention the chipmunks. If there’s anything more populous in my yard than bunnies, it’s these adorable little bastards, who have taken over not only my front yard, but the dank region below my deck. This steamy place now reeks like the monkey cage at the zoo, the result I am positive of a thriving colony of Tamias striatus that would rival the meerkat lodge.

All this might be about to change, however. Upon discovering the below-decks reek, I’ve about decided that it’s time to become a mass murderer and thin the population around chez Soileau.

Image via WikipediaI know. Look that that darling little face. From someone who was hell-bent on becoming a veterinarian (ages 9-18) it’s startling news that I would go from self-appointed guardian of the animal universe to slayer of rodents.

But there is one last-ditch effort that I’m willing to make, which may save the bun and munk populations from certain death.

I’m going to fight hares with hair.

In my garage right now I have stored away, next to the warfarin-laced rat poison, a bag of hair. It’s handy, you know, whenever someone announces that their coworkers are dumber’n a bag of hair, I can just trot out there and check.

No, really. It’s reputed to be a rabbit and rodent repellent, and my hairdresser, April, kindly provided me with a whole bag of mine, plus that of her previous four customers.

So, for the time being, at least, I’m not going to have any blood on my hands — figuratively speaking. When the rain lets up, I plan on getting those sunflower shoots in the ground before it’s August and I’ve got a forest of sunflower seedlings obscuring the view in the breakfast nook.

But if the hair doesn’t prove hair-raising enough, mass murder it is. Just don’t tell April. She’ll cut me off, for sure.

I’m such a bleeding heart

This isn’t going to be about what you think. No political ranting from me; I gave that up for Lent.

No, today I’m celebrating spring.

These grace my front yard and make me very happy every spring. I almost always make a lame joke, even if I’m the only one around to hear it. “Oh hello you darling bleeding hearts! From one liberal to another, I feel your pain!”

Nearby, is my son Christopher’s lambs ear, for which I can think of no politically related jokes. We all do enjoy petting it, though. As summer goes on, it develops flowers, much to my surprise. But now in spring, it’s just sedately ear-like.

St. Francis keeps watch over the ears o’ lamb, which I think is amusingly appropriate since he is the patron saint for animals. Also appropriate is the fact that Christopher chose him as his saint when he was Confirmed. The little animal.

Next we have this gorgeous tree, which graces the front entrance to Trassie’s elementary school. I believe it to be a flowering cherry, and every spring it is just stunning.

Just think how pleasant it would be to reign supreme as principal at this school, when you’ve got a view like this right outside your office window. Like so —

The photo really doesn’t capture how beautiful this tree is. And in case you’re wondering, yes I did ask before I barged into the principal’s office and started snapping away. I escaped without a paddling, though I don’t know how much longer that will be the case, now that I’ve plastered her office window all over the Internet. Good thing she’s such a nice lady. [/suck up]

Here’s another view. Savor the gorgeousness!

This last sign of spring, also pink, I spied one afternoon last weekend as I bopped down the street for a power walk at the park. It’s at my neighbor’s house, and the late-afternoon sunlight illuminated these tulips just perfectly.

No, I don’t know why there are Christmas lights around the base of this tree. But aren’t they pink and pretty? I think this picture came out fairly decent, considering it was captured via phone camera. (Thank you, Steve Jobs!)

OK, the power walk. Yes, I am walking again, and don’t it feel good? Last summer I surged around the walking park near my neighborhood as many nights a week after dinner as I could manage it — until the time change laid me low and I couldn’t get supper made, eaten and cleaned up in enough time to get myself in full workout regalia.

But I did make it several laps twice over the weekend, and I can feel those winter-hibernation pounds just  falling right off me.

Well, not really. More like reluctantly deciding that maybe they’ll leave, if Miss Wide Butt can just stick to the exercise plan and lay off the Little Debbies.

It’s a great workout, accompanied as I am by podcasts to keep my brain busy and occupied while I try to get into some semblance of shape, and drink in the scenery, which often include ducks, rabbits, groundhogs and, on one memorable occasion, an actual beaver swimming in the creek.

I don’t know what his plans were for damming up the wetland; he didn’t pause long enough for me to ask. Perhaps he was just reconnoitering the area for his fellow dammers, or maybe just off on a swim for exercise, or a pleasure cruise at night through eel-infested waters. (Name that movie!)

At any rate, it’s been a long winter and I’m sure glad spring is here.

Aren’t you?