September Fog

The morning fog matched my foggy brain.  I’d like to think the fog (in my brain) was because my body is so in tune with nature.  It’s more likely due to all the junk food I ate over Labor day weekend as I greedily snatched at the sunshine, knowing that I can’t expect much more, and feeling gypped that summer didn’t start until it was nearly over!

While the humans are desperately squeezing in their last barbeques and summer brews, and breaking open their last MSG-laden chips, the squirrels are thinking long-term, stocking up on healthy snacks, nipping off Douglas Fir and Western Redcedar cones from high in the tree canopy.  Other animals are fattening up for winter.  The deer finally discovered Tadpole Haven’s smorgasbord of shrubs.  They have enjoyed the lush, well-watered nursery plants, preferring them over the less pampered shrubs in the woods.  While deer enjoy “pruning” juicy leaves and twigs (thanks for the help, guys), many other critters favor berries.  This summer brought a terrific harvest of Red Huckleberry.  PJ the Springer Spaniel demonstrates the coyote technique, deftly nibbling low-hanging huckleberries, Salal and blackberries.

I have also been collecting — and planting — seeds. I spent a few hot afternoons recently grappling berries from Bitter Cherry and Cascara trees.  I had these berries and several other bags of various seeds in the potting shelter for several days while I worked on getting them planted.  Each evening, the thought flitted through my mind that if I don’t put them inside, perhaps some little (or maybe not-so-little) critter might get into them.  Aw, what’re the chances?  Neatness is such a hassle! One morning, I arrived to find the garbage can upended (SOMEONE had left food garbage in it) and some of my bags of seeds tipped over.  The fruit-muncher had nuzzled through the Oregon Grapes, but was really after black gold – cascara berries – and had gobbled most of my take!  Sometime during the day, a large black seed-laden pile of poop appeared in the driveway, confirming that not only was our nighttime visitor a bear, it had been in the woods next to the nursery as we worked there during the day!

I feel a bit guilty; I’ve committed the sin of tempting a bear to lose its fear of people, an attitude that gets bears into big trouble.  So now, I am belatedly stashing all temptations away each night. This episode with the Cascara berries shows Cascara’s value as a wildlife plant.  This small tree is popular with dozens of species: mammals (large and small), birds and insects.  I have lots of beautiful little Cascaras (Rhamnus purshiana) in the nursery (the deer snubbed them!), waiting to become part of your backyard wildlife habitat. It may have been a marketing blunder to mention “cascara” and “bear” in the same sentence.  But there is no need to run screaming from native plants just because some little old bear might some night wander through.  Just respect their wildness and don’t tempt them with attractive morsels left out at night, such as unburied food garbage or bite-size pets.

The deer and bear visits remind me of the great need for habitat replacement all over the Puget Sound area.  Wildlife needs wild space.  Pockets of habitat serve small creatures and many species of birds; that’s easy to create even in a small city yard.  But contiguous natural areas are extremely important for all wildlife. Anything you can do to help creatures large and small find refuge, food or safe travel space in your yard, local park or open space, helps.

Planting natives is a start.  Thoughtful community planning with input from citizens is important. How can you help wildlife in your eighborhood?  How can you help your community work through the knotty issues that too often pit humans against other creatures?

Time to put away the corn chips, pack in the barbeque (and clean up its tempting drippings!) and come out of your late-summer fog.  Make some plans and get to work!

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