Garden Label Grudges

APRIL 2011. Sometimes someone has a grudge against you and you will never know why.


It was “Spring” and I decided to plant some squash, cucumbers and a few other things. I usually didn’t have  luck growing over the summer, but thought I would give it a try anyway. Besides, the rainy season should be getting underway, so something might actually work. I proceeded to plant the seeds and needed to be sure to keep track of what was planted where, so I labeled white plastic tags and placed them at the end of each row. There! Done!

I have to explain my use of the term “Spring”. In southern Florida, we don’t actually have the four seasons like they have in the temperate regions of the world. Here, we have a cool dry season when it is winter “up north”, followed by the sauna we refer to as the wet season (I have always been curious how Vivaldi would have handled such a climate). The northern “Spring” for us is actually the late dry season, just before the onset of the hot, humid wet season. In the north, Spring is associated with the reawakening of nature after the deep gray slumber of winter. Grass and flowers are emerging and proudly showing their wares for all to envy. The bubbly chirps of birds announce the wonder that is unfolding as warmth returns to the world. In the subtropics, there really is no spring. Some trees will bloom, but most of them know better to wait until the onset of the rainy season. Whatever flowers we planted during the blissfully mild dry season wither, then die cruel deaths under the furnace-like sun and bleakly cloudless skies. With the departure of the avian winter residents, the once gleeful bird songs become contentious and threatening. Tempers flare in the rising heat. It is mating season for the permanent bird residents and that means fighting over nesting places, fighting over mates and fighting anyone who dares to come within a football field of their domains. This is the time of year, I believe, which inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. This is no more truer than for the grackles, whose caustic warnings to each other and every large animal species begin just after sunrise and continue until the last rays of sunlight depart the placid evening sky.

The next day I went to the garden to check on the newly planted rows to see if they needed watering. Surprisingly, the tags were gone from where I had placed them. Some were gingerly laid next to the spot where I inserted them into the ground and others were far away in other beds, apparently hurled in a bitter rage. By looking at the effort involved, whoever did this was pretty upset with them. Or me?? I cast a suspicious glance at the garden gnome statuette lodged in the bamboo clump, peering out from his prison cell. It stood there with its unchangable enigmatic smile, but I swear I detected a flash of nervousness in his painted bisque eyes. I was sure he was not involved…but knew something…but could not say.

So, I put the garden labels back into place. The next day, I found the tags ripped violently from their ordained places. Was there a message here or was this the work of some unhinged animal?  And, if this is not a human then what kind of animal would do this? My mental list of past visitors to my backyard was not so extensive that I couldn’t narrow this down. Let’s see…racoons (definite possiblilty, a story about them will be posted soon), opossums (maybe, but they only cared about roots and grubs and there was no sign of digging), neighborhood cats (they only wanted to stalk birds and make sad noises like weeping children- nope), squirrels (they seem so mild mannered, even kind…not their style), box turtle (really now, how much harm can an angry box turtle do?), black snakes (nope, too busy eating bugs and the stray mouse that might venture into my yard), mice (no, they only like to chew up things and besides, they are too busy running from the black snake) and then there were the birds.

This petty game of cat and mouse went on for the next week. Whoever it was thought that my resolve would weaken; and I, theirs. No matter where I slipped them into the soil, they were pulled out. One weekend day, I reset them in the late morning and found that by early afternoon, the mysteriously troubled visitor had yet again struck. This time, right under my nose when I was home, watching. I needed to step up my game. In vain, I resest the tags and placed a new one in the garden that read “STOP THE INSANITY!”. That too was soon dragged into another bed and abandoned, deliberately I am certain, face down. I resorted to weighting them down with bricks and burying the tags to their shoulders. Unreadable, but unmovable. At last, something that worked.

Some month or so later, the tags remained where I put them. The thing that had dedicated so much effort to upending them suddenly stopped and was not heard from again. The silence was now strange- did I win or…did something happen to my nemesis? Although I have not witnessed the  perpetrator in action, I believe I know who was behind this. It had to be the grackles.

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