The nest is but an empty shell. It sits on the lowest branch of our neighbour’s palm tree. I can see it from my window as I write.
To look at it now, in mid-winter Adelaide, it looks cold, hard and lifeless.
A pair of Murray Magpies built it from mud last Spring. Then they took it in turns to bring materials to line it with warmth and love–and a Murray-Magpie-mud-nest-full of our roof insulation. We had enough to share.
Over the next few weeks the birds kept the nest warm and each other company much of the time. Of course, they may well have been guarding the nest from neighbourhood cats and possums. Beware anything that gets between a Murray-Magpie-mum and her eggs!
The day arrived that we saw tiny beaks poke up to be shoved full of whatever mum and dad bird collected.
But, as happens, the chicks grew–too big for the nest. The chicks flew away.
Too soon the nest was empty.
Summer passed. Autumn too.
And now, Winter sits. Its long, dark clouds hang like a lifeless shroud.
The nest is but an empty shell. It sits and sways on a dying palm branch, waiting silently for the warmth of Spring that promises new life and love.
And this empty shell, from which I watch, fills with the warmth of hope.
Chris has been busy gardening. He grew up on a farm, and he is the true-life evidence that you can’t take the farm out of the man. He loves it!
Our half-pug dog Shelby loves to help him. Wherever Chris has been digging, Shelby loves to dig too. And wherever something lush manages to grow (and is not too prickly), Shelby sits on it, as if to give her approval. We can’t get cross at her because she looks up at us with her big, brown eyes, wagging her tail as if to say, ‘Thank you so much! This is a lovely new throne for me!’
Gradually our small backyard has been divided into two domains: Shelby-friendly territory, and the garden. Currently there are all manner of fences, netting and even satay sticks protecting Chris’s precious garden from one small, aging, curious and territory-protecting Shelby. But somehow Shelby still manages to pick Chris’s peas.
By wangling her half-pug half-snout into whatever angle the fencing allows, Shelby grips onto the nearest pea pod. If it’s a snow pea, she’ll eat it all. But if it is a snap pea, she grabs the whole thing, deposits it on the ground in front of her and shells it. Very occasionally she won’t be able to get the last of the peas that are left in the shell. But she is determined. So she takes the entire pod into her mouth, somehow manages to extract the peas, and spits out the rest. Perhaps she could qualify for Australia’s Got Talent.
I too love gardens. A couple of years ago, inspired by a ‘metre-square garden’ book, I prepared a metre-square in the front yard. I had visions of having a Vietnamese salad garden in my one-metre square. In my head I had it all planned, and off I went to the local garden shop to purchase my seedlings (and have a cup of tea and scones). Evidently I was gone long enough for Chris to see that I’d been digging, so he decided to help.
When I returned, instead of my perfect metre-square ready for picture-perfect planting, half the front yard had been turned into a ploughed field. To write down in words what I felt, in a way that would not embarrass my dear one, is too tricky. Let’s just say that one of our teenagers refused to have any of her friends over anymore. She was already ready to leave because of the possums that had taken up residence in our roof and wall cavities. Now she was disgusted that our front garden had been turned into a farmyard.
Thankfully, Chris and I had grown together long enough for everything to be okay. I could recognise that he had done what came naturally to him. His love language of ‘Acts of Service’ had kicked in and, combined with the gardening and physical activity, he’d had a great afternoon. He was justifiably proud of his efforts.
I, on the other hand, had to swallow the words that had crept to the front of my mouth. In the past I would have said something like, ‘What did you do that for? You always do what you want! Why didn’t you ask?’
A blessing of being married for a couple of decades is that through doing, getting it wrong, forgiving and then trying again, we’ve learnt that our marriage certificate is not a certificate of mind-reading. I hadn’t told Chris about what I had envisaged. How then could I expect that he: had any idea about the book I had bought, would ever think about planting a Vietnamese salad garden, or ever had heard of the concept of a metre-square garden? Fortunately, I had learnt (the hard way) the blessing of choosing to hold my tongue.
So, for a season or two, we had what looked like a farmyard in our front yard. Inside renovations and the eviction of our resident possums altered our daughter’s attitude, so she no longer felt the compulsion to leave. And life was a little too busy to worry about pumpkins replacing petunias. The farmyard survived, and so did our relationship.
One day, I visited the home of some dear friends. In their front yard were garden beds of pretty flowers and lovely foliage. When I looked more closely, I saw that the foliage was in fact different types of lettuce and herbs. Tomatoes were beautifully staked and attractively presented. Their garden looked gorgeous, as well as being practical. I asked our friends if Chris could come to see their garden, and they were gracious enough to invite us over for pizza.
If a picture paints a thousand words, a garden speaks an entire book to a garden-loving husband. Given a way to combine his love of gardening with his love for his wife, he has now spent weeks redesigning, digging, composting, paving, pruning and planting our front yard, so that now it is both pretty and practical. Yesterday he and I together put in the last touch: spreading lovely mulch among the freshly planted pansies, petunias, cyclamens and gazillion bulbs that he had divided, sorted and replanted.
In pride of place are his meticulously varnished garden stakes, proudly supporting his precious peas, which are pleasing to the eye and safe from the snout of our pea-plucking pug.
Originally published as:
‘Shelby, the pea-plucking pug’ in The Lutheran, July 2012, Vol46, No6, P214-215
A week or so ago, we discovered a new possum hole in the wall behind my quilting cupboard. This morning I decided to check whether they had left it alone – and especially that they hadn’t decided to nest in my stash.
There was a 6″ x 6″ hole (twice as big as last time) and inside was/is a sleeping full-sized [email protected]!!! Visions of Colin Thiele’s books coming to life .Do any greenies have any ideas how we can evict probably up to 5 families of possums from our house? There are already 2 possum boxes in the trees within 20 metres of our house, … We have poorly fitting concrete tiles which shift – or get shifted by the possums. All the neighbours have the same problem.If they don’t move out, I might just have to
RIP possum which has decided to die in our bedroom wall .
And RIP another one – perhaps the one I was laughing at a couple of days ago because its backside was sticking out into my sewing room, has died in the sewing room wall – or just left a dreadful smell…..Chris’s gyprocking skills will be used to their utmost today I think – as will our paint matching skillsWe can’t see where they are getting in! And the Possum man requests aren’t getting through. He might be a bit busy methinks.Memory Lane candle place at TTPlus will be getting a visit from me today for de-stinking the house.
How can a day be so full of contrasts?
Possum mischief and yukkiness
to one of my favourite things – Singing and playing piano for a bunch of people at Strathmont with the Salisbury Lutheran Ladies Guild. I had a lovely time…hope they did too! I hope they’ll have me back!
NIMBY – I have always tried to resist being a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) – BUT as of today, I’m becoming a NIMRAP (Not In My Roof Anymore, Possums). Hope the neighbours don’t mind too much – or should I take out shares in the company who are sealing our gutters?
24 hours without the sounds of possums in either the roof or wall cavities. Hoping the whiff of something I smelt yesterday was the result of the dog’s belly-ache, and not something stuck inside the roof…If this gutter-sealing works as a possum antidote, the 2 companies will be getting referrals here
Dear fellow possums, The renovations are going splendidly. After months of hard work, our outlook suddenly grew from dark and dingy, to expansive, colourful – and, unfortunately, noisy. The humans do not take into consideration our sleep requirements, and bang on the walls during the day.
Today, the humans added an extra room to our palace. It is quite decorative, though not very private. We believe it must be a particular eating place since they have kindly placed an apple into it. We actually preferred the extensions with sky-lights that they had in place last week. But they were faulty – and only allowed us to go out at night. Somehow we managed to lock ourselves out of our own apartments.
We made alternative arrangements and our kind neighbours showed us other entry points which we have been utilizing since then. We’ve begun working on another section for Mama possum and her little baby.
Unfortunately, the humans keep thumping. So much for the sleep. Oh well. It’s time to go out to meet the other neighbours. Good night.
Dear Possum friends, The humans have been very kind. The latest addition to our room was furbished with lovely fresh apple which was delicious. While I was eating, one of the humans popped up to say hello.
I didn’t realize until then that the new room was indeed a possum gymnasium, complete with obstacle course. The degree of difficulty factor was not too much for me on the first attempt.
Having decided to abandon the second attempt when the human shone his shiny bald head into our apartment I waited until the noisy humans had settled for the night before I made the third attempt to retrieve the apple. To my great delight the human head had rewarded me with more apple. However, my gymnastic ability had gone and I discovered that I was stuck. So I made an enormous racket and woke the humans. I didn’t expect that they would transport the entire gymnasium out to my favorite tree and release me. Freedom! If you’d care to join me, try for some of that lovely juicy apple! It gives you quite a trip! Bon voyage!
Update on the pitter-patter of little feet. Having hired a very expensive possum removal company, and having installed much more expensive (but evidently effective) gutter guard (Aquaguard), Chris made a friend by giving some lovely fresh apple, then removed the cage from the house and opened it on the back-lawn.
The possums have not only stayed out of our roof, but there is no current evidence that they are coming into our yard at all. It seems that if our roof is no longer a holiday destination, they’re not interested in visiting at all.
You can probably see that the possum who took longest to depart from her luxury upstairs apartment was not at all shy. She came right up to us as if to say
“So long – and thanks for all the (apple).”
My husband Chris gently took me by the hand and led me to our son’s room. I hesitated at the door, knowing that our home had recently hosted at least one family of uninvited furry guests which had eaten through the tiles in the adjacent laundry.
‘It’s not mice … or …?’ I asked, wincing and not daring to name what I dreaded more than mice.
‘No. Trust me. Ssh!’ he said.
He went over to look behind where our son’s pillow usually lay — uncovering a hole in the wall that I’d tried to forget about and we’d all tried to ignore. It had been temporarily covered up with several layers of board and a pile of books.
I looked from afar with trepidation. Chris went right up to the hole in the wall and signalled for me to follow.
There in the hole was a pile of soft grey fur, still attached to its owner — a sleeping possum. Chris poked the possum. I could envisage a frenzy, like I’d read in Colin Thiele’s novels about a possum ravaging the house. But our possum just rolled over and continued its sleep.
The nurturing, maternal greenie in me went, ‘Aaw! Isn’t that gorgeous!’
But the rest of me — the part that likes to be at least in some control over the order of the household — was already experiencing a state of mortification at having found mouse droppings in the laundry. This had been exacerbated by Chris’s discovery of a mouse-house in an old sneaker we kept for crabbing expeditions.
‘I’ve had it! We need to move. We need to sell or we need to bulldoze this house. I can’t take it any more!’ I yelled — out of range of the sleeping possum.
At about the same time as we discovered the sleeping possum in our wall, I made a discovery of my new favourite TV program, late on Friday nights. ‘60 Minute Makeover’ is an English television series in which house designers revamp homes in 60 minutes real-time. Teams of people with strict and detailed instructions invade a home, often while the owner sits next door sipping a cup of tea. In 60 minutes, up to four rooms are renovated — gutted, painted, carpeted. In one episode an entire bathroom was renovated — with a little tiling that still needed to be completed after the episode finished.
I dreamt of the ‘60 Minute Makeover’ team coming to my house. There were so many things that had deteriorated. Several rooms had non-functioning lights. There were at least six holes in our gyprock. There were holes in our floors. Ceilings dripped water by the bucketful every time we had a decent downpour. Different coloured patches of paint decorated the walls where creative young adults had waited while their mother decided — or, more precisely, didn’t decide on the best colour for a makeover. And all of us were suffering from lack of sleep due to possum parties in our walls and ceiling. The house had become a place we all wanted to escape from rather than a place of refuge.
Life’s priorities in other areas had taken over our care of the house. Our lack of knowledge of home maintenance had meant even further deterioration due to procrastination: Where do we start?
In what I can only put down to a God-incident, the book I was reading at the time was Women Who Do Too Much by Patricia Sprinkle. On the day of the sleeping possum, I read: ‘… I became more and more overwhelmed by the chaos. One day as I sat hopeless, considering the mess, our kitten walked daintily into the room, sat down, and looked at her dusty paws in distaste. Then she gave me a withering look that plainly said, “You could at least sweep!”’
Inspired by the kitten’s wisdom, Chris and I decided to take a step — even if it was a baby step— to alleviate our possum problem. Chris phoned our friendly neighbourhood gyprocker and paid him for an impromptu lesson in repairing gyprock holes. An hour and a half after he began to repair the holey walls that had plagued us for years, Chris finished.
Motivated by the ease of doing that job well, once he had the equipment and knowhow, Chris ventured down to the local hardware store to purchase metres and metres of gutter-guard mesh. Several hours later, he climbed off the roof and said, ‘We’ll see what happens!’
None of us remember what happened because we slept through it — the first night for years without the interruptions of thumps and bumps and possum fights. It’s amazing how much less grumpy a whole family of Hahns became after the possum eviction. For the first time for a long time, we were almost happy to stay in our house.
Since then, we’ve made more changes — some minor, some major. We’ve even saved up our pennies and paid professional renovators to come in and make our house more family-friendly. I enjoyed watching them, just to see that everything that painters, tilers, carpenters and plumbers do happens with little steps. It is while the tradesmen take meticulous care in their little steps — the precision of measurements and preparation, hammering in each nail, grouting every tile — that big changes happen.
We’ve learned lots about making house changes. But the most profound lesson was from that kitten. Sometimes it’s making the first little step that leads to bigger accomplishments.
First published as ‘Minute Makeover’ in The Lutheran, November 2011 vol45 no10 p379