Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Sterile

The first appreciable snow hit the Ozarks this past week, dumping upwards of 4-6 inches in some places (plenty of snow for an aerial deer census!). The crisp and quiet stillness that comes with snow events here marks the true beginning of winter, this year following another mild fall. From mid-October to late March in recent years, I've made weekly visits to the hardware store for 40 lb. bags of birdseed and cases of suet. This October, however, the regime was interrupted by a mandatory visit by an inspector from a civic office.
I've never owned a home because I don't want to be tied to a mortgage (and I've never had real job security so I've never wanted to commit to living in one place for too long). I realize, of course, that I'm old now and I would have "equity" if I bought a house, if I upgraded my 1995 Honda Civic that has 350K miles on it, and set down roots and all that other stuff that comes with adulthood debt. I'd rather spend my money on travel and entertainment, frankly, and most of my discretionary funds are used to pay off interminable student loans which paid for an education that didn't bring me very far in a career (but I sure did meet some stellar folks and travel a lot those years). And so, I've always been a renter, a disdainful renter that neighborhood associations look down upon because I don't "value property" and I potentially bring down the value of others' homes because I don't have a "real job." I have the potential of "ruining hardwood floors with scuff marks" and I must live "in squalor" for months at a time. It is renters like myself, I guess, the unseemly lot that I am, that actually instigated the establishment of a local office that is in charge of regulating rental properties in order that homeowner property values on the block will not be diminished because of my rental status. (It's actually even more political than I can get into, verging into the desire to tear down large tracts of certain neighborhoods like my little Craftsman-centric neighborhood to make way for low bid but expensive condomniniums etc., but I won't get into that...)

So, rental properties are now inspected by an official who not only checks for working smoke alarms and furnaces during winter, but for peeling paint, for weather stripping, for "indoor furniture misplaced outdoors," and for other "signs of decay and blight." To pass inspection, a renter cannot have a heaps of brush to attract wildlife, because it is surmised that attracted wildlife will include the unseemly sort like rats and other vermin. Oh, my yard with her 400 year old abused chinquapin oak, with her massive brush pile started in 2005 by my landlady in a successful effort to attract birds, with her native vegetation which we manage with annual prescribed fire. As renters, we failed our inspection due to a lathe and plaster crack in the kitchen, mold in the bathroom (poor ventilation and non-mold preventive paint used by the one who restored the 1932 property), and the brushpile. We were given 30 days to rectify the situation, and it's been a mad dash between managing my mother's estate, funeral, Christmas, and so forth, and managing the heap in the backyard that has maintained rabbits, snakes, hundreds of birds throughout the year, wren nests, and so forth. It's been methodical, breaking down the heap by burning it all and cutting up the larger pieces. For the larger logs and brush that I have collected from the street to provide kindling for backyard fires, we have invested in an electric chainsaw. The result? A pristine yard with a largescale bird feeding operation that never gets used anymore. Here's the well-managed and sterile woodpile that came out of the age-old heap:

It's a nice, well-constructed woodpile for a family with a wood-fired stove, but the contents of this woodpile were part of a well-established brushpile that allowed for so many hundreds of birds to come to the yard for shelter, food and their often-replenished water source. I realize I'm grousing, that I should just live in the country where I wouldn't have to manage visits from an office of blighting rental properties, and perhaps I portray myself as a crazy lady with stacks of newspapers from the 1970s who has wren nests in my head of hair that hasn't been cut since 1982, but I'm not. I'm a responsible renter who has allowed the natural upland flatwoods in my relictual backyard to flourish, and the suite of woodland birds that have been attracted to the yard are becoming increasingly uncommon with the onslaught of development and exotic encroachment.

Today, with no brushpile and the only shrubs in the feeding area some young regenerating redbuds, I saw my first white-throated sparrow since the dismantling of the brushpile. It's sad, for me, at least, because it was once nice to come home from the the daily toil of a desk job to a little patch of urban woodland free of bush honeysuckle and nonsense and find a common yellowthroat hanging out, and Eastern wood pewees perched on a strappy walnut. With the brushpile gone, with "all those weeds" cut down to ground level, my yard looks like a yard. I hate it, Mom's dogs who loved the wooliness of the yard hate it, but the inspector will think it's just passable.  
  

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