Discovering my own back yard

Published 10:00pm Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Susan McNabb

My husband and I moved from Los Angeles to Tryon nearly three years ago. When people ask me where I lived in L.A. I first ask if they know the city. If I get a yes, I say near Pico and Fairfax. If they don’t know L.A., I just explain I lived pretty much right in the heart of the city.
I now live pretty much in the heart of Tryon. My father says we had lunch once at the Pinecrest Inn when I was a child, but I don’t remember it. Other than that fabled visit, I had never been here until I bought my house.
Our Asheville realtor was as unfamiliar with Tryon as we were, so it truly was dumb luck that we purchased a home in such a perfect location.
When I tell my L.A. friends I live in downtown Tryon, they probably cringe, picturing a concrete urban existence void of anything green. And yet, here I sit in my home office, watching the summer breeze jostling the trees in my small but lush backyard. Instead of traffic noise, my world is filled with the music of birds and insects all staking their claim to the piece of real estate I consider mine.
Yes, of course we had birds and insects in L.A. We also had the occasional opossum or raccoon camped in our back yard until the dogs scared them off. And we once had a rat infestation after a misguided neighbor fed the squirrels with daily piles of peanuts.
But I’d never seen a snake in my yard until I came to Tryon. I herded the dogs inside, and ran to my computer, googling the snake’s description and scrolling through photos until I was satisfied my snake was harmless.
When I did the same for the tiny flattened road kill by my mailbox, however, I began to worry. It was a copperhead.
I started asking my friends and neighbors about snakes—just one of many elements of my new life I needed to explore.
My neighbor across the street has mentioned the snakes in her yard on her Facebook page more than she’s shared kitten videos or her young children’s artwork. Mostly she’s seen black snakes, but still, it makes me uneasy.
I met a man at the Tryon Country Club who told me about a rattlesnake he’d killed the day before. I wondered if I’d have the nerve to do such battle—or if I should even try. When I asked what he’d killed it with, he said, “A Ford.”
As much as I hoped the snakes would avoid my yard, I wanted birds to come. I’d set out feeders and bird houses, and suspected I was doing something wrong, as no birds had chosen any of the homes I’d offered—adorable mini-human cottages made of repurposed weathered wood and sleek handcrafted ceramic houses that I probably overpaid for at local craft shows.
But I finally got a family of birds. My husband slung the grill cover over our gate and forgot to replace it after he’d finished grilling, and within a few days, a stunning bird’s nest could be seen tucked into a fold of the stiff black fabric, precariously hanging off the gate we use daily to get to our garden supplies.
Every time I open my back door—and that’s often since we have dogs—the mother bird flies from her nest into a nearby tree or bush and scolds me until I leave.
Yesterday my heart sank when I saw one of my Chihuahuas, Bernie, investigating a tiny bleeding bird on the flagstone below the nest. I shooed Bernie away and watched the baby take a few gasping last breaths while I just said, “No, no, no, no.” Not very helpful, I know, but I couldn’t think of anything else.
I placed the body on a patio table so mama bird could see, apologized out loud several times, and checked the nest.
A second baby was out of the nest, resting on the sticks and leaves of the side near a very narrow fold of grill cover.
He was very much alive, breathing rapidly. I carefully picked him up and plopped him back into the nest. Two other tiny heads popped up to welcome him, and I backed away, hoping I’d done the right thing.
I’m sad about the baby that couldn’t be saved, and can’t blame Bernie for doing what dogs do. But I’m happy there are still more babies, and now we’ll be more careful where we leave our grill cover.
I love learning about life here. My husband and I pinch ourselves every day at our good luck the day we accidently moved into downtown Tryon. We’re definitely staying, and look forward to what we discover.

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