A Good Home, Animals, Art, Artist, Country Living, Farm house, Garden, Gardening, Gardens and Wildlife, Home, Life in canada, Nature Paintings, Rabbits, Spring, Wild Rabbits, Wildlife, Winter

It’s A Wild Life

It is a truth universally suspected that a family in possession of a wildlife painting must be in need of some wildlife.

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Years ago, my husband’s family had a farm and he and I became custodians of it. The farm was on a hilltop so we cleverly named it Hill Top.

Husband, children and I summered and weekend-ed there. I loved that farm and wanted a name sign for our front gate.  So my husband commissioned a local artist to make one for my birthday.  Author-illustrator Beatrix Potter – she of Peter Rabbit fame and a farmhouse named Hill Top — came to mind.

Blog Photo - Rabbit Painting wide shot

The moment that sign went up, Peter Rabbit, his parents and all their friends took up residence in our gardens.

They ate us out of home and land. As soon as we planted vegetables, herbs and flowers, they ate them.  There was soya and wheat growing in the fields. But why travel so far, when there’s good stuff nearby?

My husband couldn’t bring himself to hurt them — not with that sign out front. So there we were, hoist on our own petard.

Blog Photo - Rabbit Painting Mushrooms

When our family moved to another home, there were no rabbits — we thought.

Blog Photo - Rabbit Painting Mushrooms2

And then two auspicious things happened:

We visited the old farmhouse.  Our daughter noticed that the new owners had removed the Hill Top sign and begged them to give it back. They graciously agreed.

Blog Photo - Rabbit Painting CU of Rabbit Face

Soon after, our resident red fox – a predator of rabbits — upped and died. It might have been the sight of the sign that did it.  But there was his carcass, lying across our stream.

It took gallons of expensive fox urine to protect our gardens that year. (If you want to learn more about that inauspicious episode, you’ll have to read my next book.)

And now?

Years after moving to our current farmhouse, we’re besieged by wild rabbits — again. Squirrels too, but they don’t eat shrubs, herbs,  flowers and vegetables.

Blog Photo - Rabbit Painting Squirrel

Last winter, the rabbits were so starved for food that they ate all my clematis vines, plus the barks of several tender young trees and shrubs.

My husband did a very manly thing: he shouted at them.  The rabbits ran  — and immediately returned.

We decided to sympathize. Wild rabbits, too, have to eat.

But soon it was spring — time to plant vegetables.

Husband decided the rabbits should be moved to a nearby nature park.  He set a humane trap filled with things that Beatrix Potter said wild rabbits love: carrots and lettuce and cabbages. But we might as well have posted a sign saying: “This is a rabbit trap.”

Blog Photo - Rabbit Painting Medium CU

Truth is, these particular rabbits mostly eat grass and clover so far this spring.

Blog Photo - Rabbit cleans self

Truth is, our daughter has named them Fred and Penelope. (At least, she thinks there are only two. But where there are two, there are — or soon will be — a dozen.)

Blog Photo - Rabbit thinks he's hiding

And truth is, my husband has put the sign up again.

Methinks it’s a sign of surrender.

Blog Photo - Rabbit Painting CU of Rabbit Face

 Photos by Hamlin Grange.

A Good Home, Apples, Autumn, Cooking, Fruit trees, Garden, Homes, Raccoons and fruit trees, Squirrels and Apple trees

Apples and Critters

Blog - Pond and trees

Photos by Hamlin Grange

Way out of reach is where the biggest, sweetest fruit always grow. The sweetest guava hangs way out over the middle of a deep pond.  The perfect apples are at the top of the tree.

And far below them you stand, wishing you had wings.

That’s what I’m thinking as I gaze up at a bunch of apples near the top of our big old apple tree. A heritage variety, Wolf River, this tree and the one next to it are well over a hundred years old, taller than our two-storey farmhouse, and still going strong. When ripe, the apples are as big as grapefruit, fragrant, with an unusual spicy-sweet-tart taste. Perfect for pies.

Last year, there were hundreds of ripening apples to choose from: enough for birds, squirrels and humans to peacefully share.

Blog Apple tree 2

But these trees only bear heavily every other year. Since this is their “off year”, it’s a race against the wildlife to get at the fruit first.

If we’re lucky, the wind blows some off the trees in early October. These windfall apples aren’t ripe, but make delicious filling for crepes. Just cut off the bruised parts, slice up the rest and drop it into a hot pot, along with brown sugar, cinnamon and butter.  But the very best and biggest apples are those that ripen on the tree.  Just two of them could make one pie.

Blog - apples in bowl

“I’ll use the tall ladder to get them all in a week or so”, my husband says.

“It won’t be tall enough,” I reply.

“Don’t worry,” says my brave guy. “I’ll use the tall ladder, AND a long stick.”

Several days later, I go outside and look straight up at the treetop. The apples are still there, but something doesn’t look right, somehow. It’s like there’s a big dark bundle right above a bunch of apples.

Blog - Squirrel nest above apples

“You should go take a look,” I tell my husband when I come back inside the house.

He goes outside. He comes back and says: “That’s the biggest squirrel nest I’ve ever seen.”

It figures. If you’re a squirrel who likes apples, it makes perfect sense to build your home right at the source of your food.

Squirrels have to eat, after all. But …

“You little creeps!” I hear myself yelling up at the nest.

On the Internet, I learn that squirrels are notorious criminals. They steal pears, peaches and apples. They build their nests right in the trees and get to the fruit before the humans can. This makes fruit tree owners so furious, some have become criminals themselves – moving from trapping to illegally shooting the squirrels. It’s war out there.

Meanwhile, our apples have stopped falling. The remaining ones get bigger and riper every day. I can’t understand why the squirrels haven’t got them yet.

Blog - close up of Squirrel nest

Or my husband, for that matter.  There’s no sign of a ladder or stick, or a husband getting ready to pick apples.

But — what if the squirrels have been watching the apples just like we have? Just biding their time? What if they gang up on my poor husband when he’s tottering on a tall ladder, aiming a long stick at the apples right below their nest?

“Let’s just pick the ones you can reach with the stick,” I say one early evening.

Surprisingly, he’s able to pick most of the apples, except for the ones nearest to the squirrel nest. He looks up into the tree, eyeing that bunch wistfully.

Blog - Ripening apples in tree

“They’re perfect apples,” he says, shaking his head. “Just perfect. Pity…”

We decide to leave them to the squirrels and be thankful for the ones we already have. I’m packing the apples into a basket, when I hear, “What the hell…!”

And an instant after that: “There’s a raccoon up there,” he says, pointing, voice raised. “An enormous raccoon.”

He’s right. It is huge. A grey-black thing, all fur and eyes and tail, looking remarkably comfortable, almost curled around a tree branch. Seems there’s more than squirrels eyeing those apples.

Blog - Rocky Raccoon

We decide to leave him be.  Meanwhile, you oughta see what the folks on the Internet have to say about raccoons. Yep: it’s war out there…

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/fruit/msg0505493426684.html