My backyard teems, but
it's hardly a garden


About backyard greenery,
cats, nature
and vacuums

Art and story
by Mo Conlan

Was it Frost who said, “Nature abhors a vacuum”? Well, somebody said it.

I understand this now that I spend more time in my backyard. My yard and garden flow into each other with little delineation – evergreen trees, mowed greenery that can’t really be called grass, dry and muddy spots, and patches of mostly unidentified flora. Like the backyards I remember from my childhood.

I dumped a pail of wet potting soil on an empty patch of mud last week, wondering what would rush in first to fill the vacuum – the viney plant nearby, or something dropped in bird poop.

Something green will fill out the soil soon. It hardly matters what, as my front, sides and backyards form one giant lunch pail for chipmunks, squirrels, butterflies, rabbits, birds, deer and, I am sure, slugs, ants and spiders.

I’ve not seen snakes, thank heavens, but I would not be surprised. They are all out there munching day and night to create more vacuums for Mother Nature to fill.

I planned it that way – or actually, unplanned it. I knew I did not want a pristine suburban green lawn. What was the point – the money, the energy, the chemicals. For what? Uninteresting flora. Chemical-infused inedible fodder.

I wanted a lawn with, yes, dandelions – they are nutritious and I like their butter yellow blooms -- but also clover and violets and tiny plants whose names I do not know. The dandelions seem to encourage the violets and clover.

I wanted a backyard that would entice the birds, the rabbits and deer.

I have a swath of giant green grasses whose seeds feed the birds. I also have a pool of striped grasses that the butterflies like, but these grasses seem to be losing the battle with mint. Either the mint or that viney plant that, my friend tells me, is likely honeysuckle.

One of the species that rings a portion of back yard produces small, blue, bell-shaped flowers. I looked out one day and the plants were entirely denuded of blooms.

I’m not sure if the rabbits or the deer got them. I miss them, but, still, I do love to look out and see white-cotton-tailed, translucent-eared rabbits nosing through the clover.

I can picture them in blue short coats with brass buttons, ala “Peter Rabbit.”

The striped chipmunks are hyperactive little Disney characters. They skitter around frenetically - traders on the floor of the Edible Stock Exchange.

When I am asleep, the chipmunks burrow in my potted plants on the front porch. And when I sleep, the deer sneak up and gobble any spare blooms in the pots. Sometimes I am not asleep and I hear them in the night.

OK, I guess there is a limit to my lunch pail largess. I want to keep a few of those yellow blooms in the pots; they match my front door.
Each evening, I cover my potted plants with plastic bags – air holes punched in. So far, this seems to be a deterrent for the potted porch plants. The rest is edible estate.

I like that the deer come to eat the mulberries falling in such profusion from the mulberry tree – white mulberries. My red mulberry tree made such a mess on my neighbor’s roof and patio that he asked if I would cut it down and I said OK, though I really wanted to keep it for the deer.

Was it Frost who said fences make good neighbors? I liked his poetry a whole lot better before I found out that he wasn’t nice to his family. But, maybe poets are by nature tortured souls and not cut out of the parental mold. Who am I to judge – I’d rather write and paint than change a diaper.

Still, children deserve notice. It is a lesson and a joy to see how ardently the robins and other nesters feed and tend their voracious young.

Where the old mulberry tree with its oozing red fruit so tempting to deer and birds used to stand, there is a vacuum from soil to sky. Something green, though, has begun creeping over the stump.

One of these days I may plant another tree there. Like Frost, I love birches. Could I possibly get one to grow in this planting zone? My ignorance of flora is large, but so is my enjoyment.

This began as a story about Brody and Delilah, indoor cats who are equally entertained by the theater of wildlife outside the windows. Sometimes, though, it can turn ugly. A brazen squirrel will sit on a tree limb screeching at Delilah or Brody. “Ha-ha. You’re in there and I’m out here. You couldn’t catch me in your dreams. And your Mama gave it away.”

This prompts an irate “ack…ack... ack” from the cats. “If only I could get outside, you’d be squirrel pie.”

Inside, Brody and Delilah, like Mother Nature, abhor a vacuum. If they spot a clean tablecloth on the dining room table, they loll around on it until it is topped by cat hair.

If they find a freshly mopped corner of the house, they make cat hair dust bunnies.

If they come upon a stretch of pale carpeting, Delilah, especially, is moved to throw up her Meow Mix – which leaves behind, even after scrubbing, a slight rosy patch.

They plant themselves everywhere. An empty toilet? Delilah jumps up and drinks from it. A sunny ledge -- they hop aboard and sunbathe. I don’t think there is a plastic grocery bag brought into the house that they have not chewed on – to leave their marks and to remind me that they would like some food.

Now. The vacuum my cats most abhor, though, is the monster that is plugged in and scooted around the house to try to undo some of their damage. When it’s turned on, they hide under the furniture and, noticing all that empty floor space, make more cat hair dust bunnies.

Well, it turns out that Robert Frost didn’t coin “Nature abhors a vacuum.” According to Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac, it was the philosopher Spinoza who first said that.

I see what he means.

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