The garden is being re-fenced, by Kevin, Brian, and Julia from Egmont. Last year’s doe and her two fawns learned the secret of deer-proof mesh: that it isn’t. And she might have been the doe who found a way in the year before, when we were away for a few days. After that entry, the elk found their way in, and a bear licked out the manure bags I’d left by a bed. The past summers have been hot and dry and who can blame animals for wanting the lush watered vegetables on the other side of the fence? I don’t blame them. I just want to keep them out of my garden. The Egmont team is using 4×4 posts and heavy page wire. If we need to, we can run a strand of electrified wire around the perimeter.
Our original garden had wooden fence posts, many of them small trees, and we had a nest box on one of the posts. It hosted a family of violet green swallows every year. Then that fence collapsed (after about 20 years), and we put the nest box elsewhere because there wasn’t any surface on the posts that we could nail a box to. The swallows come most years to investigate, right about now, but they’ve given up on us. John built a trio of the most beautiful cedar boxes for them, with exactly the opening they supposedly favour, but no. They fly around and look in and then disappear. But we do have chickadees who are happy to use these ingenious homes. Every year I’m reminded of every other year they’ve come. This morning I was looking up something in my memoir Mnemonic: A Book of Trees and I read this passage.
This spring we cleaned out the nest boxes again, propping a ladder against their respective trees—an arbutus, a fir, and a small cedar cut down a few years ago, limbed, and set in place as a garden post. This last location was where we’d nailed the first box, the one that welcomed swallows and where Forrest called to Parva on summer days long ago. Each box contained remnants of a nest, a small cup of dried grass and moss and a certain amount of hair from our golden retriever.
At least one chestnut-backed chickadee couple nested in one of the boxes last year. We saw them checking it out, darting in and out excitedly; and then one of the pair sat on the clothesline while the other took in threads of moss or lichen plucked from branches of ocean spray.
Maybe the other nests were older. Maybe I never noticed. The years pass and the summers enter the rich tapestry of memory so that we ask, When did we plant the ornamental cherry tree? Or the fig tree, laden with green fruit as I write, or when did we swim by moonlight, or cook sausages in a grove of trees on White Pine Island among flowering yarrow and sweet golden grass? Which was the last year we all lived in this house, dogs eager for children to run with them or take them up the mountain to enter the cool creeks in early morning while spiderwebs jewelled with dew hung across the water?
My hope this spring? That the new fence does its job, that the garden is productive, that the work I’m doing continues (essays about blue and vision and the origins of wine and family). That every box is filled with chickadee nests and that everyone comes home.