Monthly Archives: June 2016

Paradise Lost

catirisesIt’s just the first week of June, and summer is already over – for me, at least. I define summer by time spent in my gardens. They are presently in their yellow period, the first flush of bloom consisting mainly of irises and ancient shrub roses grown from cuttings taken from my grandparents’ farm half a century ago. It is, at the risk of sounding like a doting mother, gorgeous.

It’s a shame, then, that I can only appreciate the beauty from behind the dusty panes of my bedroom windows, or in aerial pictures captured by the drone that I guess I’m going to have to buy for the purpose. How did it all come to this? Only days ago I was frolicking in my bower, spending happy hours picking sawfly larvae off the rose bushes, potting up geraniums, arranging the tiny figures in my fairy garden.

Fairy village

Fairy village

I decided to take a few, quiet moments in one of my newer beds, a St. Francis memorial garden where I’ve installed stepping stone tributes to the cats in my life and even put in one of those small, preformed ponds.

On this particular afternoon I sat on the low stone bench, leaning toward the pond, where I’d seen a little frog happily swimming the day before. It’s delightful to have wildlife in the garden, don’t you think? As I gazed into the slightly murky water, a small head popped up and rested on a floating lily pad.

It wasn’t a frog.

This is what hell looks like.

This is what hell looks like.

Yes, there is a serpent in my Eden. Specifically, Thamnophis sirtalis, the common garter snake. Here’s what I know about garter snakes:

  1. They are harmless to humans.
  2. They prey on disease-carrying rodents and insects.
  3. I want them the HELL out of my yard.

    Scene of the attack

    Scene of the attack

Dramatic re-enactment of the encounter.

Dramatic re-enactment of the encounter.

There are gardeners who rejoice at the prospect of sharing their habitat with things that slither. I think you’ve guessed that I am NOT one of those people. Frankly, I’d rather wade hip-deep in Bubonic plague-carrying rats than observe a six-inch snake from a distance of 100 yards.

Naturally, my first action upon making this discovery (after screaming and fleeing into the house, of course) was to consult the internet on how I can get rid of this monster. Turns out, snakes are attracted to little ponds surrounded by rocks to hide in and leafy foliage to lurk under. Who knew?

Several gardening forums offered advice. One counseled:

A soft net and/or forked stick will help to trap the garter snake. Either place the net over the whole body of the snake (meaning you’ll need quite a large net) or place the forked end of the stick over the back of the garter snakes neck – so not only pinning it to the ground but also disabling it from biting you …”

Let me stop you right there. Unless Amazon offers a light and maneuverable net/stick combo that is at least 15 feet long, this is NOT gonna happen.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had snakes; several years ago there was a nest – a NEST – of them at the base of the lilac bush underneath my bedroom window. I’m a non-violent, live-and-let-live (somewhere else) sort of girl, so my solution back then was to turn the eradication program over to my elderly mother. Because she’s the mom. Fortunately, though she is as averse to the damned things as I am, she was up to the challenge. Thus, at approximately the same moment I was filling out an application with the National Wildlife Federation to have my backyard declared a Wildlife Habitat, my then 70-something mom was going full-on Berserker with a garden hoe. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought of this nice lady flailing about in the backyard, no doubt yelling a blood-curdling war cry as she brought the keen-edged bringer of death down on the foe again and again. Mom also employed chemical weapons in the form of oven cleaner sprayed around the perimeter of the house. So our property can now be officially be classified as a toxic waste dump.

Since then, until now, we haven’t seen hide nor hair … er, scale … of a snake. I imagine the lucky survivors of the purge left secret markings around the property, like the hoboes during the Depression carved symbols into trees: “This farmwife is a soft touch.” In our case, it was likely, “Crazy lady with a hoe! Slither for your life!”

But now they have returned. I say “they” because I’m given to understand that for every one snake you see, there are a dozen others lurking nearby.

Watching.

Writhing.

The death stick's reassuring depiction of what's going on in my backyard.

The death stick’s reassuring depiction of what’s going on in my backyard.

This cannot be allowed to continue. To restore my peace of mind – and my access to the backyard – I have decided to turn to always-reliable technology. I have placed an order on Amazon for Snake-B-Gone granules (“Prevents snake entry, nesting and foraging.” Foraging? OH MY GOD). I have also ordered two Ultrasonice Solar Energy Snake Repeller stakes. If they seem effective, I will invest in 1,000 more and stick ‘em in every six inches around the whole property.

As I wait for these saviors to arrive, I will spend the weekend employing the old-school method that the Internet assures me has some effectiveness: stomping around. Apparently snakes are sensitive to vibrations, so heavy footfalls may scare them away. (Thank God my diet has failed; my footfalls have never been so heavy.)

Watch for me lurching around the garden in snowmobile boots, shouting “HULK HATE SNAKES! HULK KILL SNAKES!”

That oughta do the trick.

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Lone Survivor

screaming womanFeeling a little guilty this morning. I had to take a life, something I try hard to avoid. But sometimes a gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.

Let me explain.

Last evening, after a loooong day at work, I was driving home in the loaner car I’ve been using until my Kia is back among the living. As I pulled up to the first stoplight, I happened to notice I had company. On the dash in front of me was, I swear to God, a baby tarantula. But wait, you say. Tarantulas aren’t native to Minnesota. Yeah, that’s what they said about Bigfoot. And yet:

Admittedly, I’ve seen bigger spiders in my time. But I’ve never seen one so hairy and menacing. It glared at me from a dozen or so glittering, hate-filled eyes and then … I kid you not … it reared back on his hind legs and waved its front talons at me with clear intent to maim or KILL. Did you hear me screaming from where you were?

Hastily I pulled off onto a side road and even more hastily bolted from the vehicle. But what to do next? I had no weapon to hand – the only object that might be applied for self defense was a plastic garden shoe I’d recently purchased at the dollar store. Meanwhile, my nemesis had crept into the crevice between the dash and windshield. Inaccessible.

Lurking.

I circled the car warily a few times, no doubt arousing the suspicion of inhabitants of the nearby homes, before deciding there was nothing I could do except get back on the road and hope I survived the 10-mile journey to home. And then douse the entire auto in gasoline and set it ablaze. As you do.

So I resumed the commute … only to have the villain make his reappearance as soon as I hit the highway. During the following, extremely tense 20 minutes, the eight-legged horror dodged and weaved on top of my dash while I dodged and weaved in my lane of traffic. It made several advances and I was sure every moment it was about to leap on my neck and drain my blood with its pointy, pointy fangs.

Miraculously, I made it back to Osakis – alive, but traumatized. As I pulled to a stop in front of my house, the creature made its move. It darted across the dash and onto the driver’s side door, scant inches from my twitching form. I scrambled across the gear stick to the other side of the car and exited the passenger door. Leaving my belongings behind, I fled into the house.

Inexplicably, my mother expressed some skepticism at my tale. Armed with a fly swatter, she went out to vanquish the foe. She returned minutes later, proclaiming there was no spider anywhere in that car.

Cunning beast!

This morning, filled with trepidation, I returned to the scene of my terrifying encounter. I opened the driver’s side door and …

[cue the Psycho violins]

There.It.Was. Crouching on the armrest of the driver’s side door like a cougar ready to spring upon its hapless prey. A scream of terror – or was it rage? – filled the air. Whether it came from me or the monster, I cannot say. (Actually, I can. It came from me.) Instinctively I swung my new cat purse (adorable, by the way!) and struck a fatal blow. The thing crumpled and dropped onto the road, where I stomped on it for good measure.

I’m not proud of what I’ve done. But in the epic battle of (wo)man versus nature, we sometimes have to use our superior intelligence and advanced technology to conquer.

But I don’t think I’m going to get that spider gut stain off my new purse. And so you win in the end after all, mutant spider. Well played.

Dramatic re-enactment:

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Hail and Farewell

My mom and her youngest grandchild.

My mom and her youngest grandchild.

Over the weekend my clan had a small family celebration. All of our family celebrations are small, of course, owing to the lack of fecundity among its members. My parents had three widely spaced offspring, and though my sister tried gamely to keep the line going (she has four beautiful girls), my brother contributed one new branch to the family tree and my own shriveled womb is an empty vessel. Ah, well.

Anyway, it was my bro’s only child, John, whom we had gathered to fete. He is lately graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in marketing and supply chain. I don’t know what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s more potentially lucrative than medieval literature.

Call me biased (or call me Scooter; I’d like that), but I’m inclined to pronounce my nephew a Remarkable Young Man. In defiance of his Mohror heritage of physical ineptitude (we are genetically coded to stumble over our own feet), he excelled in hockey and baseball in high school, and recently served as the manager of the College of Charleston’s Cougar hockey team. I’m not sure why a college in a city whose annual snow accumulation averages zero is into hockey, but whatev.

He followed in his Dad’s footsteps in becoming a gifted drummer, and has been playing professionally in the Charleston area while pursuing his studies.

Above all, he has been – as far as I know, at least – that rarest species of young person: a genuinely good kid. At least, we’ve never seen his name in the local paper in accounts of youthful miscreants wreaking havoc, so that’s good.

John has inherited the Mohror side’s dry wit and our tendency toward solitariness. He is something of a loner, though not in a creepy (“He always kept to himself,” said a neighbor of the man whose toilet was found clogged with body parts) way. Rather, he’s more in the mold of the Lone Ranger – his own man who goes his own way.

Admittedly, we have sometimes questioned the wisdom of his independent streak. Over his family’s horrified protestations, he spent a week at rodeo camp, though to my knowledge he’d never as much as sat on a horse before. I never got all the details of that adventure, but it’s my impression that it was one of those literally “hard knock” life lessons that builds character (and breaks bones).

My nephew’s childhood was not entirely carefree; he experienced hurts and worries that I wish he had been spared. To his credit, he has not allowed these challenges to dictate the course of his life. Instead, he has chosen his own path – and I think it’s a good one.

It seems these are no longer part of the standard uniform for railroad employees. Sad times.

It seems these are no longer part of the standard uniform for railroad employees. Sad times.

In a few days John will begin the next chapter of his life. He has secured a good job with a railroad in the East (though, since he apparently will NOT wear a grey-and-white-striped cap, nor befriend any hoboes, I don’t know what the hell kind of railroad this is). It’s uncertain when we’ll see him again. But wherever his life’s journey takes him, I hope he’ll know and remember that he is loved, and that we are so proud of the man he’s become.

Godspeed.

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