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Being a fan of wildlife means it’s much easier to postpone necessary chores. Thanks to my furred and feathered friends I can find just about any excuse to avoid yard work. I like the wild, unkempt “camp” look anyway, but there’s always some sort of home maintenance to do – and be avoided – if you look hard enough!
One of my oft-ignored projects is weed whacking, which can be fun if the weed whacker can be started and if it can be kept clear of wire, grass, string and other obstacles that clog the power head and make the job last 10 times longer than necessary. Small engines that don’t start are one of my major pet peeves. In fact, I won many a chainsaw-throwing contest at county fairs because I would actually try to start the things before I threw them. Other competitors thought I was crazy for yanking on the starter cord when I knew the saw wouldn’t start, but that’s where I got the extra impetus for throwing the stupid thing twice as far as anyone else. A reluctant weed whacker is even more annoying than a flooded chainsaw, which is why I tend to avoid getting involved with weed whacking whenever possible.
Fortunately, my wild neighbors take my side on this, timing their reproductive cycles to coincide with the maturation of weeds and grasses. I really can’t bring myself to whack weeds when I know there are fledgling turkeys, grouse, sparrows and other birds hiding in the grass, plus various mammals including chipmunks, rabbits, moles, voles and assorted reptiles lurking under the greenery. I narrowly missed whacking the head off a spotted turtle last year, and while whacking the weeds near the blackberries I almost wiped out an entire family of garter snakes, which are harmless and helpful, eating all kinds of big, nasty bugs that like to sample my berries just before I’m ready to pick them. Every grasshopper they devour is another handful of berries for my oatmeal, so the tradeoff seems fair.
It seems that all kinds of birds and animals like to hide or nest in the tall grass precisely where I should be whacking weeds. Every corner, every rock pile, every edge of cover that the lawnmower doesn’t reach contains one or more critter that apparently needs that patch of weeds more than I need to whack them, and so they remain safe from the string cutter.
Oddly enough there are all sorts of amphibians out there as well, frogs and colorful salamanders that utilize the moisture that collects at ground level as an alternative to living in a vernal pool or pond. I have nothing against frogs and actually enjoy hearing their songs on summer nights, so once again the weed whacker loses the vote.
I have an old pig pen in the back yard that hasn’t been used since feed prices made it pointless to “grow your own,” and the enclosure is now full of grass, weeds and blackberry canes. I keep the weeds cut on the outside of the pen but there are just too many critters living inside it to justify going in and whacking the weeds down to ground level. In one corner where the pigs used to wallow there is a nice, tight nest made by an opossum, which comes out at night and gorges on whatever seed and grain the daytime critters didn’t clean up. By morning there’s nothing left but that means there’s no waste, so I don’t mind putting out another gallon of each for the birds and animals that share it – albeit grudgingly. Few of the birds and animals I “save” by not weed whacking get along with each other, not even within species, but the patient ones that wait their turn will get their share. The deer that come in at night often nip on the occasional clover plant or raspberry cane, so I avoid whacking those as well.
Other than keeping a path open to the woodshed, clearing the walkways and trimming around the mailbox I really don’t bother much with weed whacking all summer. I’d rather not disturb the natural flow of things and I enjoy seeing different birds and animals every day, plus it all gets trimmed and tailored around Labor Day, when the growing year is done and the denizens of the tall grass have moved on or have entered their winter dens. I get more enjoyment out of seeing a bluebird, squirrel or turkey in the yard than I do seeing picture perfect landscaping. Seems empty to me, and silent; I wake to the sound of birds singing and listen to their chirps and warbles all day. Cut grass doesn’t “say” much to me so if there’s a way to avoid fiddling with the weed whacker I do my best to find it.
There is an element of danger in letting the grass grow, however. I seem to have more hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes and other meat eaters hanging around than usual and I know from the night sounds that there are smaller critters being turned into pellets as a result of my lawn maintenance sloth. Predatory birds and mammals are part of the environmental picture, I suppose, and it is fun to see such large, secretive birds perched in the oaks close to the house. There’s room for all of them and their life-and-death struggles will continue whether I whack weeds or not. I do know that my wildlife observations decrease whenever I mow and trim, so I do my best to accommodate the critters. Grass does have a natural beauty all its own, but it looks so much better when a fawn, rabbit or turkey is standing in it. In fact, I’ve heard people exclaim, “Look, a moose!” but I’ve never heard anyone say, “Look at all the grass!” Wildflowers, certainly, but grass . . . not so much.
I know there are people who spend long hours maintaining their lawns and gardens to perfection and I can only thank them for sending their critters my way. Any excuse to avoid pull cords and small engines is good enough for me!
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