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Wild Life in the Garden

by Bonnie Wilkins Overcott

Raised on a farm in Minnesota, Bonnie writes and gardens in Minneapolis,i s a member of The Loft Literary Center. Sheís written feature stories for newspapers, including the Mille Lacs County Times, and the Longfellow Messenger and had fiction and non-fiction published in online literary journals including Across the Margin, The Commonline Journal, and the Work Literary Magazine.

            In the City of Minneapolis, I garden for wildlife as well as myself. Wildlife needs are food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the National Wildlife Federation. The unkempt mess in the back yard, inherited when we bought the house, was slowly tamed. Plants and fruit trees that attract and feed butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and birds were added over the years.

            One plant allowed to grow anywhere it wants is the native, furry-leafed, milkweed. I welcome every errant milkweed hoping to see the bright, yellow, black and white striped caterpillars, future monarch butterflies, munching holes in the leaves. A monarch lays one egg on each milkweed. It hatches into a caterpillar within days. It is the only food the monarch caterpillars eat.

            The bird feeder regularly has suet for the black, white and red downy and hairy woodpeckers, the red-bellied woodpeckers, the northern flickers and once in a while a giant pileated woodpecker.

A bright orange bowl attached to the feeder pole holds peanuts for the blue jays. I noticed the blue jays would come and lift up one peanut, drop it, lift another and drop it until they found one they wanted. I thought the peanuts in the shell were too big but research told me the blue jays hunt for the heaviest one.

Occasionally wild turkeys visit. One pair brought their baby, who was about the size of a small chicken. Nine large adults toured the garden the week of Thanksgiving.

The raspberry patch is popular. The chipmunks dangle by their little back feet from the chain link fence while eating the succulent, yellow, sweet raspberries with their tiny front feet. Birds flit from one bush to another plucking out the juicy berries while my cat, Scamper, sits below watching them, fantasizing, I imagine.

Chipmunks and squirrels share black oil sunflower seeds and corn on the cob. The corn is attached to a bungee cord and the squirrels and chipmunks bounce on it while they dangle and eat. The chipmunks fill their cheeks with seeds and run to plant them in every corner of the garden as well as every planter. When they sprout, Iíll have to yank them out of the planters. Occasionally a smart squirrel realizes Iím the one responsible for putting out the food. When I enter the garden, they will approach me knowing if they dare to get close, Iíll reward them with a peanut. Their hopeful little faces cheer me up as they dart around to get my attention. One little squirrel, that I named Peanut, even interrupts my conversations with others to get my attention. The chipmunks never get close. They just run and scream when they see Scamper or me.

            Bird baths are filled with fresh water for all the wild life. In the winter thereís a heated bird bath. Occasionally, the mourning doves stand in the heated bird bath mid-winter warming their feet. The cardinals love splashing around in the water. They also love flying back and forth through the spray when the water sprinkler is on.

            One of my neighbors sees the resident opossum scuttling into my yard at night. I hope heís feasting on the slugs that eat holes in the hosta leaves stripping them down to their spines. Bunnies are around day and night nibbling on clover in the yard and any of my plants they find tasty. They particularly like the leaves of my green beans.

            I looked out my window one night near dusk. One of the largest, lightest-colored raccoons Iíve ever seen was wolfing down the black oil sunflower seeds. Normally thereís nothing left but shells at night, but he looked like he was feasting. I opened the deck door to get a better look. The raccoon ducked under my hostas at the back of the garden, near the fence. All I could see were a pair of eyes peering at me over the top of the vegetation. Just then Scamper ran out and as I ran after him, worried heíd tangle with the raccoon; the critter climbed the fence and scurried down the fence line out of sight. The hubbub was enough to scare Scamper, and he ran back into the house.

            Raccoons are not my favorite. They are carriers of rabies and often get distemper. They eat the fermented apples from the ornamental apple tree in the fall evenings, leaving their messes for me to clean up in the morning. The babies are adorable. I once had to sweep a baby raccoon off my deck or he would have come into the house with me. This raccoon was healthy looking and kind of attractive with its blond fur. I made a mental note to take the ground feeder in at night.

            The next evening, Scamper was in the garden perusing around while I watered my hanging baskets. Suddenly I heard a yowl that meant only one thing. Pippi, the cat from down the street, was hiding in the garden and Scamper found her. With her long gray fur and skulking walk, Pippi could be mistaken for a raccoon or other wild creature in the dark.

I dropped the hose and ran to separate her and Scamper. Pippi always acts like she is being murdered when she sees Scamper which sets his fur on edge and he looks twice his size. The two of them ran across the yard, fur flying all over, yowling so the whole neighborhood could hear them, and me after them. Under the hostas they continued their yowling until I scooped up Scamper. I looked around for Pippi to be sure she was okay. As my eyes scanned the garden I spotted two eyes with black circles around them watching us over the top of the back fence. When he saw me looking at him, the blond raccoon slowly lowered himself back down into the neighborís yard.

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