Connecting Lake Simcoe's Community

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Connections of life

2022 09 03 hawke skunks and apples smaller          It’s always interesting to see how certain events are linked to other events, especially within the natural order of nature. What are the ripples of effect and their impacts when set in motion by a random act, such as a blue jay pecking at a ripe apple?

          Let’s start by going back a couple weeks when I wrote about the preparations on our farm for a Celebration of Life event. We were challenged with apples falling on a tent site, an underground wasp nest within the garden and a hungry skunk ripping up our yard. Usual country planning stuff.

          As an aside and for your information, the family event worked out splendidly! Excellent weather, lots of wonderfully eclectic guests (we are all so individually unique, aren’t we?), good food, superb team work and the sharing of many good recollections of my in-laws, Matt and Jane Valk. Now back to the skunks, wasps and apples.

          The apples were dropping in great numbers from a couple of trees that rarely produce apples, at a rate of two bushels a day. This year was a bumper crop and every minute or so a loud THUMP-bump-bump came from the orchard. Due to the event preparations, I had no time to get out the rickety ladder and climb up it with the wobbly long-handled apple-picker and conduct a proper harvest.

          This variety of apple is tough-skinned and weak fleshed, so when the apples adhere to Newton’s law of gravity, they encounter terra firma with a rather nasty impact, perhaps best described as blunt force trauma. This results in a bag of apple-shaped mush.

          As the apples were cleared from the lawn and dumped into the compost pile, I noticed that some of the fruits had been partially eaten. However, no wildlife was noted to be fleeing the scene, and the apples had only recently fallen, so what was eating the apples?

          The answer came from above (these things happen in a garden) with the raucous calling of a blue jay. A family of these handsome birds had been flying into the canopy of these trees with great regularity, and my assumption ‘twas to find and eat caterpillars. Wrongo, Dave.

          The jays were pecking open the tough skin and dining on free apple sauce. Later, when the apple fell, I came along and found their half-finished desserts.

          Leather gloves were needed to pick up the fallen ‘bounty’ as numerous wasps, flies and hornets had been attracted to the sweet-smelling rot. This makes sense as the wildflower populations are on the wane and nectar is hard to come by, so apples it is!

          The wasps were only on the apples that the blue jays had been pecking. Why? Despite a good set of chompers, the wasps could not break through the tough skin on their own, so relied on the open wound created by the jays! And hence the need for thick gloves when quickly picking up these fallen fruits.

          There were bald-faced hornets (which held their ground when my hand hovered over them… so I picked up that particular apple later, no problem) and yellow-jacket hornets in profusion. Lots of them of flying off with mouthfuls of apple to the nearby nest.

          Speaking of hornet nests, when we left off a couple weeks ago, Erin and I had just done a midnight raid on the underground nest within her raised bed vegetable garden. The layers of garden mulch over branches over logs had provided the perfect shelter for a colony of yellow-jacket wasps (or hornets, depending on your preference of nomenclature).

          We had doused the entrance hole with boiling water mixed with dish soap and vinegar, a concoction that the Internet promised would do wonders at removing said underground nest. The hot water kills the wee beasties, the soap allows the water to stick to the shiny body of the wasp, and the vinegar is to repel any survivors.

          It was after we had ‘Putinized’ the wasp nest that I walked into a skunk as I returned home by crossing the yard. Did I mention it was dark? My night vision wasn’t working the best as a bright porch light was obscuring a portion of my view. But the white stripe of my furry neighbour did alert me to some movement.

          A quick detour brought me to the back door, and for whatever reason possessed me, the camera and a flashlight was grabbed and back to the yard I went.

          The skunk appeared to be an adult male (no skunklets in tow) and quite healthy. Despite the annoyance of a flashlight beam and the blinding flash from the camera, he was quite content roto-tilling our sod in search of grubs.

          At one point I looked down at the camera, trying to figure how many times to press the menu button to change the internal (infernal?) computer setting to accept nighttime pictures, and when I looked back up Mr. Skunk was gone. Now I was nervous… gone where? Behind me?

          Next morning Erin drops in and asks me why I had come back and dug up the hornet nest? Not me! A quick inspection revealed that the raised bed looked like a land mine had exploded inside the bean patch! The crater in the corner went from top to bottom of the wooden structure.

          Ah-ha. Now I knew where Mr. Skunk had wandered off to… probably enticed by the scent of vinegar wafting in the night air. Surprisingly, skunks and raccoons can dine on hornets with no negative effects! Talk about your hot sauce!

          And so, the never-ending interconnectedness of life and living rolls along in our valley… from blue jays to apple trees to hornets to skunks… to humans toting vinegar and blundering along in the midst of it all.

Dave's Notebook: The last three weekends of summer are upon us! So much still to do... including finding a couple days to just relax. Oh the challenges!

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© 2022 David J. Hawke 

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