By Mordechai Schmutter
As someone who has a small vegetable garden in his backyard, I would have to say that the biggest benefit of having a garden is that none of our vegetables have any pesticides on them. But because they don’t, we have animals on them. It’s a trade-off, I guess.
There will always be creatures in the backyard. For a while, we had animals coming at night and eating out of our garbage cans. So we bought mint-flavored trash bags. (I don’t actually know if they’re mint-flavored. I haven’t tasted them. But they’re definitely mint-scented.) The idea is that mint drives the animals away. Apparently, animals don’t like mint, probably because after they chew through a minty garbage bag, everything else tastes a little bit off.
But the big benefit of the garden, during the warmer months, is that it keeps a lot of the animals out of our garbage by giving them something else to eat. Our garbage cans have covers, sometimes, whereas the veggies in the garden are left out in the open.
I think we spend more time trying to keep things from eating our produce than we spend actually eating our produce. Frequent readers of my column with a really good memory and not much else going on will remember that we’ve always had animal issues in our garden. At first, it was a groundhog. So my wife’s boss lent us a cage trap. You put in some bait at the far end, and the animals walk in and go “Yum! Bait!” Despite the garden of fresh veggies right next to it. And then the door slams shut behind them, and they get this look on their face like, “Oh, shoot. Do I have keys on me?” And then they sit there and wait for you to remember that you have a trap.
So we caught the groundhog, and we called animal control, all proud of ourselves, like we’d get a medal for catching it humanely, and they informed us that not only will they not come and get rid of our groundhog, but that once we catch it, we have 12 hours to get rid of it in a safe place that is less than one mile from our house.
This involves lifting the cage, which is not easy. You need to pick up the cage by this one handle on top, and you walk with it as you would if you were holding a suitcase that is entirely covered in wet paint.
Luckily, we have gardening gloves, which my wife got me back when she thought I’d be more help with the garden. But to be honest, I’m a guy. It would never occur to me to put on gloves to go play in the dirt. And it doesn’t help that I’m missing one of them. (I think we buried it.) Hopefully, though, the one I have is thick enough that the animal won’t reach up through the bars and hold my hand.
As far as things to protect your garden, the cage doesn’t actually drive animals away. The cage keeps the animal there. You have to then drive it away yourself. In your car.
Technically, you don’t have to use your car, but the alternative is carrying the cage the mile to the park, and waiting at busy street corners for the light to change while leaning sideways and holding a cage, and everyone else crossing the street illegally to avoid standing next to you. Or you can take a bus. But we usually put it in our car, along with some newspapers, so the animal has something to read on the way there.
So I drove the groundhog to the park and let it go, and then I came home and wrote an article about it, like I do, and I hoped that was the end of that. And then one day we found an opossum in the trap.
I drove the possum to the park. And the next day I woke up to find another possum in the cage. Ever since we let that groundhog go, less than a year ago, we caught, by my count, about 18 possums. One week we had six. One at a time, every morning. Apparently, the groundhog had been keeping possums away from the garden. I probably shouldn’t have gotten rid of it.
We don’t even bait the cage anymore. The possums just go in. It got to the point where I was getting back home and putting the cage back in the garden, closed, so no possums would get in there that I’d have to drive away the next day. And then my wife kept opening it.
And I said, “I don’t want to have to drive away more possums.”
And she said, “But they’re eating our vegetables.” Because that’s the kind of attitude you have when you’re the one who planted the vegetables.
And I said, “So what? At this point the whole garden is either vegetables that the possums tried or vegetables that the possums wouldn’t even try.”
So it seems we had an entire family of possums at some point, and sometimes I feel bad, because what if I’m breaking up the family? But to make myself feel better, I tell myself that I’m bringing them all to the same park, and they’re meeting up later. I’m like the possums’ official ride to the park.
So every morning I have to wake up and chauffeur my kids to school and then come home and chauffeur a possum to the park. I feel like I’m chauffeuring little creatures around town all day. I’m actually at a point where I get upset at them for getting caught.
“Seriously? You didn’t see the trap? I didn’t even put bait in it!”
I don’t have time to drag possums to the park today. My own kids asked me if they could go to the park and I said no. I’m driving possums that I don’t even know?
“Well, what if you just dropped us off? You’re going there anyway.”
“No. I don’t want you playing in the park by yourself with all those possums loose.”
People ask me, “Why don’t you just kill the possums?” I don’t know. Isn’t it mean to kill animals just because they want to eat some vegetables? Plus, I have no idea how to get rid of the bodies. What do I do, put them in a garbage bag? And then fight off bigger animals eating my garbage? Do I put them in a minty bag? Can I just dump them in middle of the park? The nice thing about dumping live animals in the middle of the park is that, once the possums figure out which side of the cage is the opening (HINT: It’s the open side), they run away. They don’t just hang out in a lump near my feet. They actually run away from me, toward the trees, which coincidentally, is also in the same general direction as my house.
So I’m not actually sure if they’re running for the trees or trying to beat me back to the house. For all I know, it’s the same possum every day, playing this huge prank on me. I’m pretty sure my three-year-old thinks so too. He went outside today, looked at the cage, and said, “Where’s our possum?” I think he thinks we had a pet that I just occasionally took to the park.
I don’t know what’s scarier, though: to think that it’s one possum, who manages to find his way home and get caught every day, or that I had at least 18 possums living in my backyard at some point. It’s not a very big yard.
I’m pretty sure it’s not the same one possum having fun with me, because sometimes it’s a little possum, and sometimes it’s a big fat possum. So if it’s one guy, losing and gaining weight daily, I’d have to think this is a very elaborate prank to play on me here. Just to get back at me for buying minty garbage bags. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.