Back to Nature (Published on - Nov. 30, 2006)
Guess who’s coming for dinner?
Photo by Rick Tremmel
Fur at the feeder ... guess who’s coming for dinner?
How many is too many? How friendly is too friendly? When is it time to shut the gate and say enough is enough? Who’s coming for dinner?

My travels have taken me to varying eco-systems where an overwhelming passion to garden has offered many challenges and rewards.

Each location has presented its own special circumstances, problems and gifts: soil or very little soil, good soil, bad soil, sand, salt, rocks, insects, climate, length of season, velocity of wind, availability of water, acidity, organic matter, invasive species, planting zone, companion plantings and attraction for wildlife.

Each garden required unique solutions. Each garden provided unique rewards. But the challenge and most difficult decisions that I eventually come up against are: When is enough enough? Here’s where my dilemma begins. If I am to clear the land to provide myself with a garden, then isn’t it also my responsibility to provide a small portion of that land to remain a natural habitat for wild creatures? This may sound like a clear-cut concept, but the implications are not always easily solved. Habitat may be as effortless as a small pile of logs or brush at the perimeter for snakes to seek shelter and a native plant garden. It may be a pole of martin houses, bird feeders, owl house, blue bird homes upon fence posts, a bird bath, a salt lick for deer, a tolerated beaver dam at the river, a fox burrow, a wolf watching, a family of raccoons, or opossum reunion under an overturned canoe and so on. You get the picture. But when is enough enough?

Recently I’ve had several calls and e-mails from wildlife friendly friends and readers.

“You know how much I enjoy wildlife, but last night one of the raccoons kept us up with his carousing and fighting. He seemed angry at the world and even went so far as to lunge at the back door intimidating the family dog and cat. What should I do?”

Another phone call from a wildlife friendly friend, “OK, I didn’t mind the opossum sneaking a tidbit or two of cat food from the kitchen bowl, but this morning I found a raccoon growling at me as I entered my kitchen to make my morning coffee. What should I do?”

Enough is enough.

There seems to be a fine, imaginary line between living in harmony with our wildlife neighbors and stepping over that line. Personally I don’t want wildlife in my house. That’s my space. I wouldn’t go into their den and I don’t want them in mine. As well, I am not going to threaten them at the woodpile or the feeder, so don’t threaten me at my back door or deck. This seems like a pretty good rule of thumb boundary for me, but lines are not always so easily established or defended. How does one communicate to a raccoon, opossum, mouse or rat, “Hey, you’ve stepped over the invisible line!”?

If we’ve invited the natural world to share our landscape, (or they’ve invited us) we don’t want to resort to killing them when we feel they or we have stepped over the line. At the same time we can’t endanger our own well-being. That is just using plain old common sense. If our backyard is suddenly boasting a nest of coral snakes, that may not be good for our well-being. If an opossum is barring us from the coffee pot, that may not be good for our well-being. And if a raccoon has become territorial claiming our deck as his domain, that may not be good for our well-being. A general rule for life is: “everything in moderation,” which may seem extreme to some people in certain circumstances when the left or right of the mid ground is radical. Just as with any garden, for example; deciding whether a plant is a noxious weed or a desirable native plant, we’re going to have to make some serious decisions and come up with long-term creative solutions.

Simple solutions include: Never, ever leave dog or cat food bowls outside. These are open invitations. Lock down the doggie or kitty door at night. Secure lids on garbage cans and create barriers. Keep bird feeders a reasonable distance from front and back doors. It may be necessary to humanely trap an unwanted guest and have it properly relocated and released into a more suitable location. Who wants a hungry bear at the back door? Don’t leave rotting fruit on the ground. Keep the salt lick a good distance from your living quarters. Squirrels, rats, mice, deer, opossums, raccoons, etc, have fleas and ticks and may carry other undesirable diseases. Wildlife is enjoyable and rewarding to observe at safe distances, but as with everything in life, exercise balance, harmony and moderation ... back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

Copyright © 2004-2017 Karen Mitchell Tremmel, All Rights Reserved.
All text in this site is original and copyrighted by the author, who writes for a living. Please do not reproduce in whole or part without permission, except for brief quotations covered under the "Fair Use" provision of U.S. copyright law. Thanks.