It doesn’t seem to matter if a person lives deep in the country, or in a small town, the suburbs of some city, or anywhere – wild animals are all around us. Even in a closed community like Treasure Lake with guards at the gate, little animals and big animals prowl around the neighborhoods as if they own the place. They claim “squatter’s rights” on the land and spread the word among their relatives that their ancestors lived on the land long before land surveyors came around, deeds were written, or homes were ever built.
Last year around the middle of August, we spent an evening with friends from Pittsburgh who had rented a time-share townhouse at the Wolf Run Manor section of Treasure Lake, next door to the Ski Lodge. They served us a really nice dinner which we enjoyed on their deck overlooking the ski runs. All evening we watched one herd of deer after another graze up and down the slope. We also counted many deer, ranging in size from little babies with spots to big daddies with horns, all along the road as we headed for home. The deer who weren’t looking for an opportunity to cross the road were trimming shrubbery in the lawns.
That’s the way it is around our own neighborhood, too. Although there were many varieties of plant life around the farm, deer began to think of our garden as their own personal salad bar. Some years there were a lot of bunnies around, too. As soon as the little tips of the lettuce and peas appeared in our garden, so did the little rabbits. They acted like those veggies were planted there especially to suit their little gourmet appetites. So they hopped right in and helped themselves. We soon realized that, for the first time in the history of our garden, we would have to put up a chicken-wire fence to cut down on the unwelcome visitors.
We had already decided to eliminate sweet corn from our garden because of past experiences with raccoons. Those masked bandits would watch from the woods while we planted, nurtured, and weeded the corn patch. They could tell from afar just when the best ears were ready for the table, and they would slip in for a midnight sample – a few bites out of each ear to see which was the sweetest and the most desirable to have. It takes much of enjoyment out of eating roasting ears at the dinner table when you see tooth marks that aren’t your own.
For a few years, we built an electric fence around the sweet corn, with several wires about two inches apart close to the ground where a raccoon would run into them. That did the trick as long as the fence controller kept pumping juice into the lines. Sometimes we planted pumpkins among the rows of corn. One year, when the fence was removed after sweet corn season was over, we discovered that the pumpkins were set in a completely squared off patch – whenever a runner came to the hot wire, it backed off and turned around through the patch leaving the edges in a straight line like the fence.
One year, a coon-hunting friend asked if he could bring his dogs onto our property and reduce the coon population for us. That sounded like a plan to us, so one moonlit night we heard the dogs baying off in the distance and knew they had arrived. We walked out by the garden where we could hear better and, next thing we knew, one of the coon dogs came trotting up to us. Not wanting to distract the dog, we walked away and that dog went over to smell our fence. Of course, we had never even thought of unplugging the electric. That dog left out a back-chilling howl and disappeared over the hill. The hunters spent the rest of the night hunting the dog, and never came back to look for more raccoons again.
I treed a family of coons one evening. I heard a rustling noise out behind the house and walked back to see what was happening. There was a family of raccoons heading for our sweet corn. I yelled and clapped my hands, much like I used to do with unruly students in school, and the coons scattered. A couple young ones went up a nearby tree and the rest headed for the deeper woods. The mother paused for a moment and then made the mistake of choosing the tree. I had three of them up a tree, but I was all alone with them.
I stood at the base of the tree with a little stick that I had found nearby and attempted to frighten the beast. After sizing up the situation, the mother decided she could fake me out. Females will do that, sometimes. She came down the tree and hissed and snarled at me. I pounded the tree with my stick and yelled with a Tarzan-like yodel, followed by my imitation of coon dog howls that I’d heard in the past and, much to my surprise and relief, she retreated up the tree. This routine was repeated every few minutes. I knew if I went for help, the coons would leave in an instant.
Finally my wife came to look for me, and she set out to look for reinforcements. Eventually that family of coons was eliminated from the scene. That old girl must have been the ringleader of the corn snatchers because our sweet corn patch remained untouched for several years. Maybe the surviving kids that had run off to the woods passed the word that there was a wild man with a big stick and a funny voice waiting by the cornfield.
Two years ago we constructed a six-foot chain link fence around our garden and added a skimpy line of baler twine a foot above the wire to give an even more intimidating fence for the wildlife to scale. That has saved all vegetables grown inside from land animals. Most of the action comes from crows or other birds that have descended from the skies and enjoy pulling freshly-placed seeds and plants right out of the ground. We did manage to have a few ears of sweet corn right out of the garden last week.
That was sweet!