The trials and tribulations of living in Paradise
When people come to see us for the first time at Big Creek they invariably say something like, “Wow this place is like paradise! I can’t believe how beautiful it is” This happens early in their visit before they run across a snake, a hornet, a yellow jacket or realize that the grey cloud circling their head is actually gnats. They have not as yet seen the marauding deer, ground hogs, musk rats, beaver, squirrels and other assorted vermin that are ever present. For example; when I went down this morning to check my ‘Have a Heart’ trap which I set last night with fresh corn, collard leaves, newly picked sliced apples and cucumbers down by the garden, I found not the perfidious ground hog, I was hoping for but an extremely angry raccoon. He hissed, lunged at me through the trap and behaved in a very threatening manner. He was not as large and scary as some I have caught before in the trap but frightening enough to assure that just in case he turned on me and charged when I released him, I had a safe and fool proof escape route (of course nothing is fool proof because fools are too ingenious). I had one particularly angry ground hog do just that several years ago. After catching a very large boar raccoon in the trap one night, I took him down to Pisgah Church to release him. When I carefully bent down and opened the trap door to liberate him, which means that my fingers were extremely close to the growling raccoon’s open mouth, filled with many, very sharp looking teeth, he didn’t seem as frightened of me as I would have thought. He took three of four steps away from me and then turned and ran in my direction. I turned in total panic mode and tried to flee in the direction of the relative safety of my truck. He chased me a dozen feet but I scared him off by all the noise I made from dragging the ‘Have a Heart’ trap behind me that somehow in my attempt to escape the angry raccoon I had gotten my shoe lace tangled in. Thank goodness that there was no one else out on the desolate country road that time of the morning. Of course it might have been helpful if I had actually had that heart attack which felt imminent when the brute was after me. The poor irate fiend I outweighed by a hundred and seventy five or eighty pounds was extremely pissed off, was much faster than you would think, and he seemed anxious to inflict some sort of serious damage on the legs and feet of his tormentor. Me! After recovering a modicum of my dignity I left swearing that never again would I put myself in a similar situation. And I haven’t! When I released the raccoon this morning I put the gate end of the trap through the bottom of the door of the fence surrounding the garden and very carefully prized the door of the t rap open. The raccoon raced away and disappeared into the grassy bank by the creek. Thank goodness he was a bit of a coward, unlike me.
The dastardly ground hog I was after has decimated my entire corn crop and eaten the tops off all of my parsnips and carrots. He has browsed the pole beans and most of the other vegetables in the garden. I freaking hate him and have plans for his immediate demise. I got one shot off at him last week but apparently missed. It is hard to tell when you hit one because they are tough creatures and do not drop when you shoot them. They always disappear and show up after a few days when you accidentally run across them dead somewhere down by the creek. Four years ago I shot a large one with my scope mounted twenty-two from the porch surrounding the house. Thinking I actually hit him I kept a watch out for his body. It finally showed up in a day or two near the creek where I buried it in a fairly deep hole by the edge of the garden outside the fence. The next morning I heard the dogs carrying on out in the driveway in front of the house. Looking out of the upstairs window I saw them fighting over the body of the dead groundhog. One dog had the head, one dog had the tail and one dog had the midsection, all tugging away as though they had not been fed in weeks. Going down immediately, I took the groundhog away from the dogs and removed it to a sinkhole further down the creek. The hog disappeared into the sink hole and that was the end of that, or so I thought. In two or three days I again heard the dogs fussing with each other over something in the front of the house. I again looked out and was flabbergasted to discover that the dogs had found the now somewhat stinky ground hog and brought him back to the house. The groundhog was then placed into a deeply dug hole up at the top of the driveway with a number of rocks placed on his grave. Next morning was a repeat of the previous one, dogs, driveway, tug of war and a distinctly horrible smell! The dogs fought over the dead ground hog as though it were filet mignon. Finally in an act of desperation I put the now highly malodorous ground hog into a large garbage bag, put the bag into the car with all the windows down and drove him to a dumping ground and ejected the hog into the dump. So far the dogs have not found him and brought him back. Before this happens again I am thinking about buying a gas mask. I am however, not sure where to purchase one.
As I might have mentioned there are many problems growing things here at Big Creek. The countless multitudes of creatures competing for the finished product of my growing efforts is daunting. First and foremost are the deer. They eat everything that is green and since they run in herds they can decimate a garden in one visit. Standing on their hind legs they can reach your succulent apples, peaches, plums and pears hanging from branches you might have thought were out of their reach. Brazen and totally soundless creatures, they come on silent feet in the black inky darkness of the nights here at Big Creek to do their pilfering. They devour the hosta planted in pots on the front steps of our house. The plants under the wire cages I build are not safe from them because they have learned to push their wet black pointed noses under the edge of the cages and upend them, eating their fill with impunity. There are knowledgeable gardening people who assure you in their gardening books, magazines and television shows that there are “deer proof” plants and if you plant them you are assured that the deer will find them distasteful and even invisible. Not so in my experience. These people are frequently in the business of selling these afore mentioned plants. Hellebores are one of these plants that deer are supposed to find undesirable. Again, not so! During many of the coldest winters here the deer have come and raided the hellebore beds and eaten their fill. It seems to be a last resort plant for them to eat but eat it they will.
The most deer resistant plants I have found are the strongly aromatic herbs like basil and rosemary. The deer seem to have a great affection for eating the first year blooms from newly planted tulips. Three years ago I had a hefty number of tulips bulbs imported from Holland, planted that had just produced their huge, ridiculously red blooms as big as coffee cups just outside the bedroom French doors. They were quite impressive. One morning I went out and noticed that the deer had come in the night and eaten about half of the beautiful vermillion blooms. I went to the pantry and got a plastic container of extra hot red pepper that I recently bought at “Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market.” With a spoon I filled the rest of the still blooming tulips up half full with the extra hot pepper and left them to see what happened the next night. The following morning only one tulip bloom had been eaten. Glowing in the self satisfaction from inflicting at least some revenge on the deer I felt some better. The next night the deer returned following a rain storm and finished off the rest of the tulips blooms. Honestly I do not know why I bother!