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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Snow Birds

By Barbara Sloan

The snowbird migration begins for some in October at the first sign of frost. It lasts as late as March. Snowbirds follow the major flight or land paths that take them south. Perhaps those that remain behind to brave the winter could be labeled juncos or chickadees or sparrows.

Like most snowbirds, we had a lot to learn in our new environment. The desert plants are not welcoming. They have sharp spines or pickers. The ground is hard, arid and unforgiving, not yielding itself to growing gardens as we do in the Midwest.

Finally, the snowbird has to beware of the unfamiliar animals that are part of this difficult environment. Our experiences began the first year when we brought our indoor-outdoor cat with us. People warned us the bobcats or coyotes would get him.

Prince wandered around the desert without incidence until the day we saw a bobcat chase him up a tree. The cat used a small branch as a bridge to the roof. Under the heavy weight of the bobcat, the branch broke and the bobcat tumbled to the ground.

He got up, shook himself and looked up at the cat, watching him from the safety of the roof. For several minutes, he stood and looked, first at the cat, then at us watching from the safety of behind our sliding glass door. He shook his head again and strolled across the yard back into the desert.

Another animal, snowbirds, learn about over the years are javalinas. They are not shy around humans. They look like a pig, but are definitely not pigs. They have bristles on their body like a porcupine but they are not porcupines. They have very poor vision. Their sense of smell is exceptional. Their body oder defies description: horrific, putrefied, fetid are only a few descriptors.

Arizona natives sit back as we snowbirds start out by ohhing and ahhing about how cute they are. Some of us don’t ask and leave tidbits out for them. Others ask what they like to eat. The answer is, “NEVER FEED A JAVALINA.”

“But,” we answer, “their babies are miniature adults and sooo cute. We love to watch them.”

“If you have javalinas in your back yard, garden or open garage, you will know that there is nothing cute about them. They are destructive. NEVER get near the babies. The mother will attack and it won’t be pretty.”

A characteristic of a mid-westerner snowbird is that they are people of the soil. They want to grow things. The snowbird next door to us decided to stop migrating. He has used all of his small lot that is not covered by his house as a garden.

We watched with awe knowing that javalinas love fresh tender vegetables. Sure enough, his entire garden was decimated by a pack of javalinas shortly after his plants began to send up their green shoots. He has countered by erecting a low electric fence around his lot to avoid another attack.

Another park resident, who migrated 50 years ago and stayed, decided to build a wooden fence below her deck to put in some raised beds. This time the javalinas came and looked, but waited.

The morning the vegetables were to be harvested, the gardener had a surprise. The javalinas decided they were ripe the night before. The wooden fence was smashed and the tomatoes, greens beans and potatoes were gone.

A local fence builder put in long metal posts and a metal fence high enough and strong enough to make an elephant hesitate to attack.

At lunch the other day, I overheard a conversation in the next booth. One of the ladies said, “We have found the perfect solution to keeping the javalinas out of our garden and it is so simple.”

“What’s that?” her partner asked. “I gave up gardening years ago because of those pesky creatures.”

“I read an article that said if a human urinates around the edge of the garden, the javalinas would not cross the sprayed area. I told my husband about it. He tried it and we haven’t had a bit of trouble.”

“It works for sure? Isn’t your husband afraid he will get arrested for indecent exposure if someone sees him?”

“Oh that was easy. We keep a big jug in the bathroom for him. I have a sprinkler head that we put in the top when we use it on the garden.”

“Well, I’ll be.” I followed them out of the door to go home. We were packing for the spring northern migration to see the tulips in bloom.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. PLEASE read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Barbara - I just looked up javalina (skunk pig) on the internet. I do not find them particularly cute!

It is amazing, the lengths we will go to in order to defend our home grown produce!

Great story. - Sandy

Wonder if that would work around my daughter-in-laws vegetable garden? Might be worth a try except it rains so much in Seattle and it might become too diluted.

Great story! Made me giggle! And I can just smell the javalina smell!

My poor MIL used to spend hours planting her vegetable garden ,weeding it and could not wait until things grew and ripened.

Then she would wake up one morning and her garden would be gone! As Elmer Fudd would say,"Those pesky wabbits had come in the night and eaten everything.

I once gave her a cartoon I had seen in a magazine which showed a rabbit family in someone's garden by moonlight
pushing a supermarket cart down the rows and filling the basket with carrots,tomatoes and cucumbers..

She was not amused....

I remember when I taught in Texas that the kids would come to school with their guns in the back of their pickups, and after school went out javalina hunding. I thought that was so crazy. These kids were some of the best kids in the school, smart and on the path to bigger things. Soon I realized that these beasts would never be eradicated. Still, it seemed somewhat unfair. Great article!

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