Gardening; it’s a tough gig!

The monstrosity

The monstrosity

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself…   May Sarton

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.  May Sarton

It was the silence that woke me. An unusual hush had fallen across the air outside my bedroom window that, at dawn, is otherwise a cacophony of bird song. Lately, the non-lyrical cawing of crows has drowned out the melodic songs of other birds and served as a crude alarm clock for the weary. Even the lush, throaty warble of the magpie has been dampened by the crows cawing.

I’ve had some issue with crows of late.  A month or so ago, while out walking, I came across a ( what’s the name for a group of crows? Not a gaggle, that’s geese, not a flock surely? Perhaps it’s a shroud?) group of crows and I kid you not, I was followed by one of them. It was very unnerving at the time hearing the strong beating of those black wings just above my head, flying so far, stopping to perch, looking away as if it were not tailing me, then taking off in pursuit again as I powered up the street. This crow continued to follow me for a good ten minutes. If I stopped to look at it, he would turn away, stay put a little then continue in his pursuit. I thought it unusual at the time but soon dismissed it until it occurred again, when I was walking a completely different route, several weeks later.

Anyway, what’s this to do with my garden? Well, the crows have descended on the perimeters of my garden like a swarm (actually, it’s ‘a murder of crows’. I just looked it up). Several crows have been making regular visits to my garden. At first they came to drink from the bird bath. No big deal, it’s been sweltering hot. Then I noticed they would sit high in the neighbour’s silky oak tree, scanning the yard. Over the course of a week they became emboldened and sat closer, upon the fence. I noticed it was not just morning visits they would make. Before too long each afternoon they were to be found scrounging around, picking at hard seeds that had fallen from a neighbour’s tree into the yard.  This behaviour puzzled me. Why were they here? What has driven them to my yard, apart from the water and the seeds?

Low and behold, I was sitting at breakfast on the back deck one morning when I heard a rustling. A strange, ‘wrong’ kind of rustling. Upon investigation I discovered a very crafty crow had slipped beneath the netting I had thrown over my fig tree in an effort to discourage possums, turkeys, grasshoppers and the like from devouring my sweet precious bounty. The sheer cunning and audacity of this crow, to find the one small rise of netting to slip under and feast upon the fruit of kings, incensed me.  Not only had this crow foiled my protective borders but it had the bad manners to sample several fruits and leave half uneaten spoils behind. Really? My mother always told me to eat everything on my plate. To add insult to injury they leave calling cards scattered across the lawn, discarded feathers dotted here and there.

The insult added to injury - crow calling cards

The insult added to injury – crow calling cards

Into battle mode I went, redesigning and repositioning the netting to ensure no gaps existed. After several attempts, with armfuls of white nylon and a few laundry pegs, stakes and the like, I managed to construct a monstrosity in my garden. I’m concerned the weight of it is too much for my dear fig tree but I felt confident I could safely leave the premises without concern, assured my fruits would ripen for my table and not the tummies of my black cloaked visitors.

Several years ago, when I first began gardening, I had issues with nocturnal visits from possums that would partake of the herbs, fruit and vegetables in my harvest garden. So up went the walls. One very ‘close to nature’ friend suggested sharing with them but at the time I was determined that the fruits of my labour would not be shared with uninvited guests that I constructed perimeters to protect my burgeoning  yield. My yard now looks quite a shambles. It isn’t pretty by any means and perhaps not too functional either. I realised the possums were the least of my concerns when the grasshoppers descended en mass and began reproducing at an alarming rate and promptly shredding the leaves of the fig, lemon and orange trees, not to mention all the smaller crops as well. You name it, they ate it. Then the pretty little fluttery white moths came and lay eggs that turned into nice little green grubs that munched heartily on my Asian greens, cauliflower, kale and more. How to  overcome these invaders? Does one have to wage a constant battle against these formidable opponents? I know not the answer.

The fortified perimeters in place.

The fortified perimeters in place.

This latest feathered foe has me running from my bedroom in the early hours of the morning giving chase to save my crops. This morning in the hushed silence two plump, glossy crows were feasting upon my blueberries – a little bush I was delighted to see producing a flux of fruit this year compared to the meagre dividend of three round berries of last year. Groggy from sleep and barely able to coordinate my limbs I ran from the house wielding a pink rubber thong and hurled it at the intruders before, pyjama clad, constructing a temporary screen around what is left of the blueberries.
I find myself between indignant fury and a reluctant respect for the craftiness of these feathered ‘friends’. I can’t help but wonder what change has occurred to drive the crows to behave in this manner. I am familiar with crows as scavengers; lifting scraps from bins and picking through rubbish. I had not known them to be connoisseurs  of modern superfoods. So I find myself asking the same questions, year after year, as I puddle about in my hobby garden, trying to raise a few crops for my table, enjoying the time outdoors, hands in dirt, sun on skin, “How does one overcome these invaders? Is it worth the constant battle or should I give in?  Is there a middle ground? Can I wave a white flag and call a truce somehow with the crawling, hopping, flying, skulking opponents who love my garden as much as I do?”

I suspect it’s up to me to find the balance, to make the concessions, as nature is surely stronger than my resolve and far more enduring. I suspect it is nonsensical to pitch a human will against the force of Mother Nature but can anyone tell me, before I go rabid, how I might work with her in this case?