Franke: The Idylls of Suburban Life
by Mark Franke
We are fortunate to live on a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighborhood, just on the edge of the city limits. We are quite friendly with our neighbors, most of whom have lived here for a long time.
Just the other night, the wives gathered in our family room to plot their next neighborly social extravaganza so we husbands repaired to the patio to field test a new local bourbon I received for Father’s Day. It passed, judging by the miniscule amount left in the bottle.
The conversation among us is worth the price of admission. One neighbor is a retired Army colonel who spent much of his career in Europe so he is a walking travelog for the sights not usually seen by tourists. Another is an IT security specialist and consultant with the FBI. Sometimes I think I am the only resident without a security clearance.
But mostly we talk about the challenges of home ownership, particularly our never-ending warfare with the critters who claim squatters’ rights in our backyards.
Ours is a wooded subdivision with a golf course wending its way around the houses. My backyard is bordered by a small, wooded thicket, home to all sorts of wildlife, including the occasional deer or even a passing coyote. Our favorite itinerant, sometime resident is a red fox. Or perhaps it is the family of red-tailed hawks seasonally nesting in the trees.
What will never reach favorite status is the horde of chipmunks which disrupts our sylvan existence. I hope no one from PETA is reading this, but we do whatever we can to “encourage” them to decamp for safer environs.
One neighbor live traps them and then takes them to a local park for release. I don’t think he takes them far enough as I am willing to swear that sometimes they get back here before he does.
We all feed the birds, competing for bragging rights on the quantity and quality of our freeloading feathered friends dining on our dime. One unfortunate bird got its tail feathers caught in a chipmunk trap. The neighbor was chasing that poor bird across the backyard, trying to release it from the trap, while the bird hopped along as fast as it could. Who needs cable TV when you can watch this sort of drama, or should I say comedy, from your own yard swing?
Moles are also a species not welcomed by us homeowners. My first summer, as I was nursing along a freshly planted yard, saw the convening of a mole convention resulting in tunnels everywhere, visible and destructive for my expected crop of bluegrass.
I borrowed several traps and had no little success in reducing the mole population. The problem was that apparently I only snagged the intellectually deficient ones. The escapees bred a master race of progeny to challenge me the next year. Even shoving a garden hose down into their runs had no effect, and I never could find where the water eventually came out. It reminded me of the movie “The Secret of NIMH.” At least my electricity stayed on.
Squirrels are also a major nuisance. We have spent millions of dollars, almost, securing our bird feeders from these pesky varmints. One neighbor, who grew up in Berne, availed himself of the country boy solution—a .22 caliber. I would be sitting on the patio and suddenly hear a “pop” followed by a “plop.” I’m not a lawyer so I won’t go into the number of city ordinances violated but neither did I feel the compunction to call 911.
One day I saw his wife drive down the cul-de-sac at a high rate of speed, something totally out of character. Minutes later I saw my neighbor walking down the street, rifle on shoulder and followed by his son-in-law with a shovel. Wisely, I waited for their return to question this parade. It seems his wife hit a squirrel in the street without killing it and wanted him to put it out of its misery. The squirrel somehow recovered and fled the scene, in the animal version of hit and run. About 15 minutes later a city police car came slowly down the street looking into every yard and open garage. I did not offer to turn state’s evidence.
Muskrats from the many golf course ponds may be scariest for the faint-hearted. A neighbor lady, when hearing another resident complain about one cowering in her garage, responded this way: “Close the garage door and select your weapon of choice.” This is suburban life in the raw.
We are not a cruel lot but the balance of nature must be preserved. We are simply helping out when the foxes, coyotes and hawks become overwhelmed with their responsibilities. That’s our story and we are sticking to it.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.