I’d Rather Be Wright, II

by David Wright

Trouble in the garden

Things are odd. I’m not talking about you, but about the natural world, the one I have been looking at now for almost 80 years. It has always been fascinating and peculiar, but now it seems odd, possibly different than what I remembered.

I do know that in the southern coastal states with temperatures approaching 125 degrees, they have no concerns and don’t really want to talk about it, not just because it has been outlawed but because it has been deemed a hoax, but around here, let’s say in our garden, the discussions and observations have been more telling.

The other morning, I drifted into the garden just after sun up, around 9:30, breathing the residues of the wildfires in Quebec. It turned out those fires had consumed more forest in the last six months than the last 10 years combined. With burning eyes a half-hour later, I sat facing the growing garden trying to sort out my efforts while sipping my morning tea. There had been some rabbit damage, but my chicken wire encirclements had deterred the gluttonous, over-populated rodents somewhat. I relaxed while considering my Second Amendment rights and recalled that my archery skills had been fading. Options?

As always around here, I had perused the potato bug situation and found, like most insect populations, the numbers were way down, but there were some grinning at me while ferociously munching my beloved reds and palominos. They seemed to be focusing on certain plants, and not others, so I continued to relax rather than get out the collection bucket. Then, out of nowhere, a spectacular rose-breasted grosbeak landed in the patch, looked about, then jumped up and snagged a fat, rust-colored potato bug. This went on and off for 20 minutes with many taken. What? I didn’t know anything ate those disgusting larva. I mean, the bugs eat nightshade leaves and must taste like (hold back here) the fecal matter of a corpse-eating rat. I had never seen either, but here it was.

The question was, why would such a lovely bird eat a potato bug? To feed their young, I suppose. They need protein, and while grosbeaks eat mainly seeds, insects are collected for the growing nest of little gross ones. Still, there is better fare, or at least there used to be. Desperation?

The same day, the garden-growing grandkid showed up with a mutilated four-foot corn stalk. We assumed some rodent had scaled the plant, without knocking it over, and chewed into the meristem, lacerating the entire thing while in pursuit of what I suspect was sugar. Pretty much had to be a chipmunk, but why had we not in the last 17 years seen this before? Raccoons certainly will come right into town the minute the corn is ripe and just make a party of it until action is taken. This was not a stinking raccoon who would normally make the place look like a Civil War battlefield; maybe a squirrel, maybe a red squirrel of the hated sort. Just odd. Desperation?

A couple days later, while still puzzled over the oddities, my early morning visit to my prize garden found both the peas and pole beans now eaten from one foot up to about four feet. Leaves stripped, peas mutilated and bent, and, interestingly, a beet pulled from the ground and nibbled on but mostly just left lying helplessly on the garden floor. What?

It is true we had a bear here in town a few years ago; that would be the one who left the large pile of steaming spore just outside the garden, a location where my fellow gardener, if not wise to the ways of fecal matter, could have stepped in it — or better yet crawled in it. This was not the work of a bear. But it was also not the work of any of those rodents around here. I mean, bean leaves?

In looking at the beet chew marks, using my forensic skills, I noticed the dentation was not that of any old rodent, not even the local sloth (oh, that’s me) because the teeth were too big. Wait a minute! Are there deer in town? In 18 years, I did see a couple down by the river doing a little fishing (I think) but not in my backyard. Why now? Smoke? Wolf and mountain lion avoidance like we used to see in Boulder, Colorado? Desperation?

And what are those Japanese beetles doing here in such mass? A Portage County Pearl Harbor?

All of this seems just odd. I don’t believe any of this is a hoax, and it’s still legal to talk about it. I won’t be going to the gulag. Something is up.

The eccentric columnist was spotted at the July 4 New Hope Firecracker Parade apparently preparing to make some bold announcement.

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