Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Backyard I Didn't Want


Before I moved to the country 6-1/2 years ago, I had a tract home on a little lot. There was a sideyard with a patio, a koi pond, a floor-to-ceiling parakeet habitat, and a low fence with an arbor gate draped with trumpet vine and morning glories that led to the backyard proper. There, I had a second smaller patio with a small goldfish pond and, because that's where my 3 dogs played, a couple of tufts of tough pampas grass and some easy-care cannas. I also added hanging baskets to the wooden fence. It looked, you know, landscaped.

L: parakeet abode ; C: Small goldfish pond ; R: Gate between sideyard and backyard
L: Koi pond in sideyard (that's Bailey, one of the smartest, sweetest dogs I've had the pleasure to live with.
Sadly, she's gone now)  
C: Bailey, Ginger and pampas grass
R: Cannas and hanging baskets
L and C: Friendly koi who would come to take treats from your hand ; R: waterfall in the koi pond
What visions I had for my new backyard when I moved to the country and fenced off a 50' x 70' section to provide a safe zone for the dogs! The ugly storm shelter with its ventilating system and raised metal door with the counter-balance weight to open and close it could be dealt with by the strategic placement of a few shrubs. The wire mesh fence would be perfect to train grape vines and morning glories on. The 3 trees -- a crab apple, a non-fruiting native pear and something I still haven't identified -- would provide lovely shade. And I had plans to add a few more crepe myrtles to the one lonely specimen along the back fence.

What I didn't count on was the vendetta the dogs would wage against any new plantings. Then came the two unexpected goats that had to live in the backyard under the shade trees until I could build shelter from the hot Texas sun elsewhere. They took care of the few new plantings I had managed to start and ate down the half-grown crepe myrtle to its roots.

When the ducks came, the plan was to grow them up in the backyard for about a month then move them to a pond in what I thought was a safe pasture. Not only did the ducks not want anything to do with the pond, the pasture wasn't as safe for them as I'd tried to make it. And who would have thought 3 little ducks could be so destructive in one short month?

So I gave up trying to force the backyard into being something it obviously couldn't be and the beasties didn't want it to be. I put the duck house my dad built into a sheltered corner of the yard, laid a few pavers down to stall some of the water erosion under the trees and threw a kiddie pool on them for the ducks. I let one or two of the horses in to graze the yard down every few weeks, but I also let some grass and weeds grow tall to give the ducks a sense of security. The backyard is far from the well-groomed paradise I dreamed about.

It took awhile, but I finally realized the backyard isn't my haven but the beasties'. And they have made it into a far more vibrant environment that my well-planned vegetation ever could. Life has a funny way of showing us that what we really want isn't always what we think we want, and that letting go of preconceived ideas can open up possibilities we might never imagine otherwise.

The Backyard Today

Fafnir doing her Jurassic Park impression
Fafnir, the iguana, is allowed to camp out for a few days at a time in the backyard under strict supervision. Since she can  easily climb the fence, I check on her every hour or so during the day to make sure she's keeping entertained on her side of the fence. Iguanas are diurnal, and at night she shuts down completely so I don't have to worry about her running off while I'm sleeping. I do worry a little about owls, but as she's something undreamt of in Texas owls' philosophies I'm not too concerned they'll recognize her as prey.
I actually have to persuade Fafnir to eat her veggies instead of the ducks' food. Kids!

Cooling off in the ducks' pool. This is the "swampland" section of the yard.
Sunning herself in the morning on the metal door to the storm shelter.
Well-camouflaged in the crab apple tree
Look at that expression! She's really enjoying herself out in the "wild"

The ducks
The duck hens are very determined layers and brooders. Trouble is, it's waaaay too hot for the eggs to hatch. In fact, I'm pretty sure the insides of the eggs are being baked as soon as they're laid. Keeping a bit of unmown grass helps the hens think they're hiding, safe from the world. I pretend I don't see them.

The Rooster
No, he's doesn't have an official name, though I do refer to him as Roo Boy. He wound up in the backyard over a year ago when the other roosters unexpectedly beat him up and blinded him in one eye. I have no idea why they turned on him -- he was in with 5 others, all brothers, who tolerated each other just fine then and now. He does well with the ducks and dogs, so he's stayed. He wasn't too sure about Fafnir invading his territory at first, but he's come around -- especially now that he's figured out there's generally leftovers from Fafnir's lunches.
The structure with the doors and windows is a storage shed. The structure to the left of it is the goat shed. It has a raised front porch, a roof extension for shade and a box thing that they like to nap on.

Bella is the mother to Bonita (aka Bonnie), who was born last fall. Bella's been my lawnmower choice this spring and summer to give her a break from nursing Bonnie and to encourage Bonnie to wean. I love how the beasties all feel so comfortable around one another.
L: It looks like she's watching the ducks, but she's really upset that she can't get to the crab apples on the ground since she's outside the fence.
C: Invited in, she's scarfed up all the apples and is headed for the house.
R: "Can I come in, please?"


Wilkins MacQueen said...

Love seeing this side of farm. Curious, a while ago you'd mentioned about all the eggs and how everyone was tired of eating them. Do you still have an excess of eggs? If so, have you found any other uses for them other than batting practice?

Sylvia said...

Aren't they wonderful. Fafnir is so cool! I love her.

Caitlin said...

Amazing photos! thanks for sharing. aww, Bailey! I have a dog called Bailey too! Love fafnir, she's a gorgeous iguana! (i love lizards lol)

Whirlochre said...

And, of course, later — when you move to your undermountain hideaway — Fafnir can frolic with the trolls while the dragons run loose round the diamond caves...

Kay said...

What fun photos! Thanks for sharing.

Chelsea P. said...

Fafnir in the pool = sooo cute! Love the pics :)

Landra said...

Fafnir in the pool and the tree were the best pics. She's a natural for the camera.
I love Roo Boy's look at Fafnir too! It's almost like a Mexican standoff.

Awesome pics. Thanks for sharing.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Mac: Yes, I still have excess eggs. Not really enough at a time to donate, though, so the ravens generally get the duck eggs and the snakes get the chicken ones. And then the chickens eat all the shells. So really, nothing is going to "waste."

@Sylvia: She's really the perfect lizard. My brother had a large monitor lizard years ago that wouldn't let anyone handle him. And he (the monitor) ate mice. Sweet little mice that he ripped to pieces. Fafnir's great!

@Caitlin: Thanks! What kind of pup is your Bailey?

@Whirl: Shhh. The undermountain hideaway is a secret!

@Kay: Thank you for being there to share with!

@Chelsea: I like the pool shots too because it gives you a good idea just how big Fafnir is.

@Landra: Fafnir has turned into quite the photog :o) And Roo Boy wasn't disappointed; he got the leftovers!

Anonymous said...

Hi Phoenix
What lovely shots - and I had to follow the links and read the duck and goat stories. Priceless! Maybe you could do a Gerald Durrell true animal stories type book next, I'm sure you have enough anecdotes!

My understanding of owls is that they are hard-wired to hunt at a particular type of movement, so I wonder if Fafnir's movements are different to the local lizards'.

I have a lizard tale of my own to share. We ended up adopting the blue-tongue lizard that had been my son's day-care centre's pet. Blue-tongues are as common as muck around here, and the one species for which a permit was not necessary.

The child-care worker who had been in charge of the lizard had not wanted to take him home. It had originally been hers, and she had set-up the enclosure at the child care centre early that year. When it closed over summer last year, she decided to give it away. When we asked why she was a little evasive, but at the Christmas party, another worker let it slip.

The $20 blue tongue lizard had been kept in a cage with a $300 gecko. And she came back to see him munching on the last piece of gecko!

Wilkins MacQueen said...

I had no idea the chickens would eat the shells. Nature is efficient. I am terrified/horrified/abhor snakes. Are there many where you live? Shudder. Here we worry about cobras mainly. I haven't seen any and hope to blazes I never do.

I'll never go to Aus. due to the snakes but New Zealand has no snakes according to what I've read so that is a place I wouldn't mind seeing.

The pool shot is very cool. One lucky iguana.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Mac: Well, I do believe I would not like to meet up with a cobra. We do have rattlesnakes here, but I've only seen 1 in 6 years. Others have seen copperheads around, but I haven't seen one yet. In the warm months I do run across big but non-venomous rat snakes moderately frequently and blue racers not so frequently. And I've seen a couple of beautiful yellow-bellied racers. Fun fact: The yellow-bellies will shake their tails very quickly and hope the rustling noise makes them sound like a rattler and scare predators away.

Snakes still startle me when I see them (my first hard-wired reaction is generally, "SNAKE!"), but I'm not afraid of them. I do wear long pants and ankle boots when I wander out into tall grass areas, though :o)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Jo-Ann: What a funny story! I guess that's like putting a shark in with a blue-fin tuna and hoping nature won't take its natural course. I have an armoir-ish piece of furniture I turned into a comfy habitat for a small lizard, but I never got a small lizard to house (I was on a lizard rescue list but moved before any were placed with me).

I bet the blue-tongue is great! In comparison, geckos are the common ones here (depending on variety - lots of "house geckos" around) and blue-tongues are the rare ones. And we need permits here too for "exotic" animals, the definition of which differs from locality to locality. In some cities, iguanas need a permit, and some Home Owner Associations won't allow them. Which is good in that so many people don't understand what it takes to care for an adult but a pity for those of us who do.

fairyhedgehog said...

That first yard looked so lovely. It must have been hard to get used to the idea of having a beastie sanctuary instead of a pretty garden! You do have wonderful animals now and it all seems to work.