Home & Design

Green Acre #65: Guests in the Garden

Illustration here, below and on the front by Edward Huse / www.edhuse.com.

“DID YOU HEAR a thump?” My Prince yells upstairs to me from the kitchen, where he’s washing the dinner dishes (he’d vacuum them if he could).*

“Yes,” I yell back from my desk, where I’m industriously playing Level 2034 of Candy Crush (eat your hearts out, Candy Crush freaks). In fact the thump was large enough to disrupt my concentration, leaving me with two jellies after 96 tries.

The empty house next door is being renovated so I immediately suspect a break-in, someone clambering over the wall

between the properties and envisioning My Prince heading off to do battle with a wooden spoon, his weapon of choice—he once dispatched a would-be mugger with one, though that was years ago, before our neighborhood became home to $1,000 baby buggies and nannies warbling to their wee charges in Mandarin Chinese.

I leap up and run five feet onto my porch (I don’t do marathons) and gaze down into the garden as The Prince gallops upstairs with a flashlight. A raccoon is sitting on the lower porch roof, licking its paw and not in the least disconcerted by the light’s beam. He (or she) ambles to the edge and slips down, landing with a soft thud on the sofa below.

The Prince races downstairs again, muttering about his fish pond, and I follow less recklessly.

“There are two,” he calls from the garden steps. “A little one and a big one and they’re just sitting here staring at me like,  ‘Got something to eat, buddy?’ Someone must be feeding them.”

Which, truthfully, occurred to me. What would they like, I was just asking myself. Cat food? I could get them little bowls for water and food.

But the look on my beloved’s face dissuaded me from such a notion (at least while he’s around).

The next morning, there were little paw prints all over one of the porch sofas. Did I tell you I keep them heaped with white pillows? Make yourselves at home, little bandits, I trust you had a nice rest.

We used to have an opossum visit nightly, sitting on the wall between our house and the neighbor’s li

Illustration here, above and on the front by Edward Huse / www.edhuse.com.

ke the Cheshire Cat, eyes catching the light in a gaze neither welcoming nor offputting, just strange. I liked having him there, though he turned out to be a she, giving birth under the porch (much goes on with our porches) to a whole litter of baby possums. I found it adorable and was thinking of how charming it would be to have a dinner party with a line of them sitting on the wall staring down at our guests. Those opalescent eyes.

The Prince, however, called animal control and was advised to put a pan of ammonia near their nest. Mama picked up each chick or cub or what-have-you by the scruff and took them away, I have no clue where.

We had a cat for a while, even though neither of us is a cat person. In fact The Prince sneezes at the sight of one.

I had been slipping food to a scrawny kitten that was being neglected by neighbors, when one day I noticed this moth-eaten orange cat, chowing down at the kitten’s bowl out back.

The cat was orange and we called him Orange. Once, when he stole into the house, he went into the Prince’s closet and peed in his shoes, then sprayed his . . . essence . . . about like a fire hose. He was not a house cat. We called a vet who said he’s no doubt feral and to stop him from spraying he’d have to be neutered but was unlikely to put up with the recovery, for various reasons.

Day after day he’d return. At first he’d skitter away when I came close, but gradually, by ignoring him and just talking to myself about this and that, he became used to my presence.

Then I took to sitting on the ground near him and just chatting. He’d twitch his ears some and eye me askance but didn’t run. One day, he let me touch him.

My intention was to give him a damn bath—he really was foul. Maybe because being an outdoor soul he was used to getting wet in the rain and so wasn’t fearful of water, I eventually did. Every couple of weeks, when he’d explored something particularly rank, I’d bring out a basin of warm water and shampoo, dump him in, and soap him up. That cat loved baths. He’d arch and purr and rub hard against my hands.

Orange was around for several years. Since he couldn’t come inside, the Prince built him a winter nest with insulation and bedding and so forth, altogether cozier than inside the house, I assure you. We keep very chill around here. Preserves the skin, you know.

Then, one summer day I noticed he was getting awfully thin and smelled in a way that was not healthy. Having lost my beloved beagle, Bagel (who found me in a parking lot in New York, by the way), several years before to kidney disease, I recognized the odor and knew Orange was passing as well.

But still, he wanted a bath. I gave him a long one, soaping and massaging as he mewled and gazed at me with such pleasure and dare I say love, or at least affection? I dried him with a towel so his mangy fur fluffed as best it could.

And then he ambled off and was gone.

Though the raccoon and the opossums and the cat may be gone, we still have hearty troupes of mice, lightning bugs, mosquitoes and squirrels traipsing through. It’s possible we’re also the new home of a vole, or is it a mole? Just this morning I noticed strange humps in the dirt and a rude tumble of coleus—yes, the same coleus I crowed about last week.  One of my pathetic successes with growing anything from seed.

What do you suppose moles, or voles, like to eat?

* Baby would say this is an unnecessarily snide remark.


—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie writes about all the living things that inhabit her city garden. To read earlier columns, type Green Acre into the Search bar at the top of the screen. For more on “wild Washington,” click on this post.


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