Wild, Wild Life

Last weekend, I spent some time with my parents and my brother’s family in Wisconsin. We spent the 4th of July barbequing outside, playing Frisbee, and admiring my mother’s yard. My mom has a beautiful garden, but it is constantly being torn up by wildlife: the deer destroy her prize rose bushes, a huge possum broke their new cherry tree in half while going after a few berries, and wild turkeys ate her peonies. So, like most city dwellers who move to the country, my parents have grown to detest all living creatures.
The final straw was when a pair of raccoons chewed through their screened-in porch to get at a jar of pork grease my mom forgot to throw in the trash. This prompted my father to dig out his trusty humane animal trap so that he could catch the culprits and relocate them a few miles away. My nephews squealed with delight as they awoke to find a giant raccoon in the trap, just staring at them with a wide-eyed, guilty look.
This reminded me of my own experience with that trap – a memory that is forever etched into my brain, like a Celine Dion song that just keeps playing over and over again. You see, even a humane trap, in the hands of an amateur, can become an instrument of terror.
It all happened a few years ago, when I lived downstairs from my friend Vivian in Milwaukee. We lived in a two-flat with a nice-sized back yard, and every summer I would try my hand at gardening. I spent hours and hours planting and fertilizing and pruning, only to have a family of rabbits chew through my flowers like a swarm of angry locusts.
I tried all sorts of techniques to keep them away: I planted marigolds (since rabbits apparently hate them), put up nets around my favorite flowers, shoved shiny pinwheels in the ground to scare them away. Nothing really worked – in fact, I think they rather enjoyed the pinwheels.
So I called in the big guns, and borrowed the trap. The humane, catch them live, and move them to a better place trap. I looked at it as a kind of forced bussing program. These rabbits would now be living closer to the lake, in a neighborhood with a lot more trees, and many more woodland creatures for them to frolic with. I was really doing them a favor, or at least that’s how I saw it.
Week after week I would set the trap, baiting it with tempting goodies like carrot tops, fresh lettuce, and petunias. Unfortunately, however, I guess a dead petunia sitting in a wire cage somehow has less appeal than an entire flower bed full of plump, juicy ones. So apparently, rabbits are a lot smarter than they look, because my flowers continued to be eaten, and I never was able to catch even one wabbit. I mean rabbit.
After the summer was over and my garden had been decimated, I gave up on the trapping concept altogether and decided to try again next year. Several months had passed, and I had forgotten all about my relocation efforts. That is, of course, until that fated day.
My neighbor was out engaging in one of her favorite summertime activities, which was hedge trimming, when I heard a knock at my back door. When I opened the door, Viv was standing there with twigs in her hair, gleaming hedge trimmers in her hand, and a look of… what? Horror? Anger? Disgust? I couldn’t quite tell.
I stepped back a little and said, “Oh hey, Viv. Uhhh… nice job on the hedges!”
Vivian squinted her eyes a bit and said, “You need to come out here. Now.”
“Oh, uh, sure. Do you need some help bagging up leaves?”
“No. Just follow me. There’s something I need to show you.”
I kept my eyes fixed firmly on the hedge trimmers in her hand as she slowly led me across the yard and over to a secluded corner behind the garage. Vivian picked up a rake and dragged out the trap, which apparently had been sitting between our garage and the neighbor’s fence for months. At the bottom of the trap was a brownish object that looked like some dried up leaves.
Upon closer inspection, I soon realized that this object was not a pile of leaves, but was actually a dead, flattened squirrel. The odd thing was that it wasn’t decomposed, or bug-infested. The squirrel had been almost perfectly preserved, and looked really rather peaceful. In fact, I remember thinking that it bore a striking resemblance to a bear-skin rug, but Barbie Dream House sized.
I could see that Viv was looking for some sort of response from me, an explanation perhaps.
I tried my best and said, “Huh. That’s weird. I could have sworn I brought that trap in months ago.”
“Well, Jenny, I think your flat little friend here would tend to disagree with you.”
It was clear by the look on Vivian’s face that there was really no need for further discussion, so I put on a garden glove, picked up the trap, and led the deceased away. I’ll spare you the gruesome details of how I got the cardboard-like squirrel out of that cage, but let’s just say that if the animal rights activists control heaven, St. PETA will most definitely not be letting me through those pearly gates anytime soon.
I know this looks bad for me, but you have to understand that this was all an unfortunate accident. I just wanted a nice garden, that’s all. And I learned my lesson – man must never try to alter the balance of nature.
It was shortly after that incident that I had to move away from that apartment. There were just too many memories, too many horrific images that would wake me up in the middle of the night. I decided to move to Chicago, where flower beds would be replaced by concrete, and the image of that carefree family of rabbits would become a distant, fuzzy memory.
But anytime I’m visiting friends in Milwaukee, I drive past my old house, and slow down a bit as I pass the garage. And once every year, under the cover of darkness, I sneak into the back yard, walk back by the garage, and leave a single, brightly colored pinwheel in honor of my fallen friend.

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