Enter the Intruders

When life gives you vermin

People who know me well understand that I do not particularly enjoy “pop ins.” If you show up at my house unannounced and unexpected, it will take me a minute or two to adjust to the wider implications:

  • Are you a friend, foe, or someone my sister knew in high school?

  • Should a beverage be offered?

  • Must I now brush my hair?

With humans, if you want to repel a friendly intruder you can at least send a message through some passive-aggressive body language — watch-glancing, coat-getting (“oh, I was just heading out!” or fake phone call making.

My most frequent intruders, however, show up expecting fully stocked all-you-can-eat buffets, and are completely unimpressed by my hostility.

(This recent visitor, eating my bird seed — surprisingly cute and also creepy, with those tiny hands…)

We have rabbits, foxes, and the occasional coyote. A large ginger cat I’ve named Thomas hangs out at my house whenever he feels like it and occasionally sleeps on my porch. Barn swallows build their nests wherever they choose:

(My back porch. Dudes — no. Just no.)

But around here the deer are the most obvious and destructive intruders. They saunter through like they own the place — which, honestly, they sort of do. Recently I saw a group of five deer standing on the porch of an old house nearby, quietly munching their way through the owner’s potted plants. They even seemed a little judgy about the quality of the offerings.

It’s easy to focus on the deer, as they belly up to a neat row of all-you-can-eat Hostas, newly planted and now — an appetizer. Fences do in fact keep the deer out, and the fussier and more frustrated gardeners simply enclose every plant, bush and tree in circles of fencing. Other frustrated humans gather at the local feed and grain store and swear by various deer repellants, including coyote urine, human hair, and yelling.

When I decided to take my gardening to the next level, I installed a lush bed of perennials out near the barn. I quickly learned to stick to varieties deer don’t like. They don’t like daisies, mints, peonies, sage, bee balm, salvia, lupine. All good. However, after the first growing season, I noticed a very neat path punctuated by impressive piles of scat leading straight through my beautiful perennials. It turns out that I had planted my garden over top of an ancient deer path — one that has probably been there for hundreds of years.

Every day at exactly 4 pm they walk through, pausing to eat whatever appeals to them. I went through a brief period of wanting to employ ninja sharp shooters to maybe tranc these pests and release them somewhere in Vermont (a private academy, perhaps), but like so many other creatures I encounter in the course of a day (daddy long legs in the bathtub, barn swallows on the porch, wasps trapped behind the window screen), I’ve decided that I won’t even “shoo” these long legged eating machines. I’ll just let them pass on through.

(Bonus: fawns…!)

Turns out, there is a sort of wild liberation involved in this practice of letting things pass on through. With nothing fenced out, it also means that nothing is fenced in.


LAURA LIKES: (where my friend Laura recommends great stuff)

Laura writes:

Maintaining a house is its own exasperating endeavor, if you're me, because there's never any set finish line in all the cleaning and straightening and repairing. I am (unlike Amy) not a fan of intensive gardening, probably because the Kansas summers are profoundly unlike those of upstate New York. On the up-side, I live in a place that's meant to be prairie, more or less, so that means we can plant a lot of native grasses and flowers and just let nature work her magic. 

It's fun to plan out what you want to plant, and how to help bolster the natural ecosystems. Basically, you're trying to get the best of all possible worlds, one in which you pretty much plant things and leave them alone except for the occasional watering, and this just happens to be exactly the sort of thing this climate naturally supports and the bioregion in general benefits from. 

We decided that our Thing would supporting Monarch butterflies and bees. For this, I chose anise hyssop, which is pretty, and the bees and butterflies seem to love. 

(Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash )

Another plant I like for attracting butterfiles is beardtongue, which comes in many colors and is incredibly easy to maintain. Don't freak out if you find a variety called Penstemon digitalis...it's not the same as foxglove, which is toxic. This is a wild foxglove. Not the same, but be sure to check. You also don't want to put this someplace horses or ruminants can get at it. Deer pretty much always leave it alone anyway, but if you keep cattle, sheep or goats, you should probably skip it. (It's a selenium collector and concentrator. Probably no ruminant animal will ever eat enough of this to get sick, but better safe than sorry.)  But otherwise: it's pretty, and the pollinators like it. 

(Image credit: Tom Hilton on Wunderstock (license)

I thought it was a lot of fun to research what will grow in our area without much oversight, and with the added bonus of supporting at-risk insect populations.  That it's beautiful is just a bonus. Good luck with your bee and butterfly bait! “

[Laura Lorson is a radio writer and producer. You can follow her on Twitter @prairielaura. She lives, natch, in Kansas.]

RAILEY JANE SAVAGE’S “JUNK FOOD: Stuff I consumer to feel better”


Railey writes:

“I used to work for a movie theatre that specialized in old films and thematic series; a “calendar house,” vs. “first run.” I was lucky enough to be there the year Universal Pictures celebrated its 100th anniversary and released restorations of, among other classics, The Birds. I knew the film by heart, but had never seen it in 4K wonder (Hitchcock in HD is a different kind of scary). 

I sat in the balcony for The Birds. The rich colors and deep sounds washed over me and I gave myself over to escapism. I gasped when poor Tippi was first divebombed, and held my breath as schoolchildren cowered while silently passing the murder-filled jungle-gym. But my escapism was thwarted by the cheep cheep cheep of two tittering college girls who eschewed the rapt attention of their fellow film-goers. 

They giggled, then laughed, then brayed as the people onscreen bumbled, then fled in terror from the threatening skies. It was strange to be terrified, then have the state of being afraid intruded upon by annoyance. The emotional whiplash was making me ill. 

It was late, I was off the clock, and wearing something that was definitely not professional. So when I crept through the dark to chastise the noisy pair they took me less than seriously. When I told them they were ruining the movie they cheekily replied, “We paid our $4 like everyone else, but we didn’t know it was going to be a comedy.” When I hissed that The Birds is not a comedy they, without missing a beat, looked at each other before turning back to me and said, in unison, “Yes, it is.” I walked out.

I left the theatre that night so I could retain my feelings for The Birds without human intrusion. 

Watching Hitchcock now calls for a revised stance, given how much I’ve learned of his abuse of his players—Ms. Hedren particularly—so in parting I’ll leave you with two clips, each iconic (and comedic) in its own right.

Here’s a link to Hitchcock’s short:

A brief prepared lecture

Here’s a must-see bonus from the epic and awesome movie within the show Schitt’s Creek

From somewhere beyond Sunrise Bay and Herb Ertlinger's vineyard, comes Dr. Clara Mandrake

[You can find Railey Savage’s new book: A Century of Swindles, wherever great books are sold]

TARGETED UPSELL: Where Consumer Correspondent Emily Mason reports on what the Internet wants her to buy.

Emily writes:

“What’s New?

I have discovered Pluto Square! And despite the name, it has nothing to do with outer space.

(That would actually be cool.)

Nope, Pluto Square is, in fact, a self-cleaning litter box.

(...I know, I couldn't have called that one either.)

Apparently Pluto Square is the latest thing in modern pet care.

The box is self-cleaning!

It’s equipped with motion sensors!

And a step-stool!

It also has a canopy!

For...some reason!

(The human also looks as if she needs a litter box)

It also weighs 24 pounds! That’s twice as much as my cat!

How... practical?

And...huge. Guys, it’s HUGE! 

Why does it have to be so big??? Aren’t litter boxes intrusive enough?

In addition to being odious, Pluto Squared is also very expensive. Because of course it is. 

(...Maybe they charge per pound?)

Why am I seeing this?

I got my cat some new food online. So now the internet knows I have a cat, and it’s really leaning hard on this.

Did they sell me?

I’m going to say no for two reasons. 

Reason One is I’m not convinced this thing works. 

Pluto Square is not the first of its kind. In my (occasionally desperate) research to see if it was a good idea to get a self-cleaning litter box, I found that every version had something in common: operating problems.

Seriously, all you have to do is scroll down to the reviews section to see reports of a myriad of problems that are, frankly, too gross to share. 

(I mean, you can imagine…)

Reason Two is: I don’t trust my cat. Her name is Stormy and she is an adorable precious evil monster intruder who will absolutely wreak havoc if given the chance.

(Don’t be fooled, she’s a monster, and I love her.)

 I can picture it now: I unveil the very expensive and enormous litter box, which she takes one look at, then deliberately pees next to it while I watch. There’s probably some yowling too.

Frankly I wouldn’t blame her.

I will do my cat a favor and spare her from a blocky bathroom named after a dwarf planet. She’ll continue using her cardboard box, while I’ll continue the important work of trying to teach her to clean it.”

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