Irish Spring, Scottish Summer

You have no idea how many posts I write in my head these days, nor even of the several that get put on the 21st-century equivalent of paper that don’t get finished for various reasons, mostly time. At this point, I think I’ve regaled you on numerous topics I really haven’t. Maybe I’ll get there.

Social whirlwind! On Friday we hosted friends who were on their own whirlwind tour, their first post-covid outing used to come back to Gunnison and cram in as many visits with friends as they could fit in two days. If that wasn’t enough, we then went to dinner with friends who were hosting their niece, whom I last saw when she and her two siblings were the same age as her three charming kids are now. Saturday my parents, sister and aunt arrived for a 24-hour visit to memorialize my uncle.

And then we had other visitors, the uninvited ones, most of whom timed their arrivals poorly. My Aunt Nancy, who drove all the way from Lincoln, Neb., has filmed a whitetail deer trapped in her backyard. (She got a gate open for it to make its escape.) But apparently we were wanting to show her some mule deer. Mule deer who are omnipresent in our yard except for Nancy’s visit.

Within hours of her departure, two bucks in velvet materialized in the front yard, brazenly helping themselves to Lynn’s new baby bushes despite her shouts, hand claps and rock throwing.

These bushes — lilacs, potentillas and we’re not sure what else — have been under constant assault since they arrived a month or so ago. Within 24 hours of planting the temperature dropped below freezing, wiping two out immediately, and for the remainder of that week the overnight temps persisted in hitting the high 20s. Then it got very hot, and very dry.

And then the deer attack. You would think, since we’re trying to grow them crabapples and other delectables, that they would understand this and practice some patience, waiting a year or two until everything is established and able to withstand their ravenous teeth. But no. Cutting the branches off to spite their own appetites, that’s what these deer do.

[It’s not just our country deer: on Saturday Kara arrived at work to encounter what she assumed was the work of drunks from the bar down the street. Kirsten Daily of Seeds of Life recently planted a “Tuscany Peach” theme of flowers in our two planters, and most of one planter was torn out and lying on the ground. Kara and a friend replanted, swearing at drunks all the while, but yesterday a neighboring property manager told Kara it was the work of the marauding town deer.]

By yesterday Lynn had been given a new tactic to prevent the deer-bush interface: soap. My co-worker Vann, one of Lynn’s rural carriers and Kara’s husband all suggested it, and they each recommended the same brand: Irish Spring. Vann told me the deer don’t like the scent.

I used to use Irish Spring all the time, for years, probably decades. Manly yes, but I like it too. Remember those commercials? I don’t recall why I stopped using Irish Spring, but I did, and when I opened the boxes Lynn bought last evening, I smelled nothing manly about Irish Spring.

The scent wafted all about the house, lingering even into this morning, pungent and off-putting. At least for me. You won’t find me out grazing on Lynn’s baby bushes, or her trees.

I suppose it will take longer to see if it’s the effective deer repellent recommended by three out of three people, but in the meantime the deer aren’t winning any points for failing to put in an appearance when we actually wanted them to.

Nancy did bring us vultures, however. With a houseful of people I was doing something else when suddenly everyone out on the deck was crowding the rail, trying to identify large birds on the neighboring lot. Lynn thought they were maybe turkeys; Nancy, a birder, watched one take wing and declared it definitively to be a vulture, based on the way it waggled.

My mother resorted to her phone, where the Miracle of the Internet told us these had to be turkey vultures, since that’s the only kind of vulture to put in a Colorado appearance. We also learned they are very inept birds of prey, with poor feet for grasping and carting off small creatures to serve as fodder, and so they rely on carrion. In this case, based on the smell as I took Oz for a constitutional later, perhaps a skunk. Although Nancy did tell us that vultures regurgitate anything they can’t digest, leaving a foul odor in their wake. I didn’t go investigate and thus can offer only speculation.

It was very nice getting to know Nancy, even if for a day. She married my uncle in far-off California, and after he retired they moved to Nebraska. I had only met her in person once before, at the memorial for my grandmother.

The original plan had been to hold my uncle’s memorial at the same site outside of Creede, but several circumstances, including travel time and the adverse impact that altitude had on Nancy the last time, led to us defaulting to the tall spruce tree in our backyard planted just about a month ago, when Nancy suggested a tree would be a good way to honor Uncle Jerry.

One of the things that brought Jerry and Nancy together was a shared interest in Celtic music. My uncle used his retirement years to delve deeply into the family genealogy, and it turns out we have the blood of the Sutherland Clan of the Scottish Highlands running through our rather English Livermore veins.

So we listened to Scottish bagpipe laments, as my uncle requested, compiled by my sister Terri, and my sister Tia conducted a libation ceremony, where we sent him off in ancient fashion by pouring Scotch onto the ground.

Deep in my memory banks I remembered being handed a poem early in my days on the Gunnison High School speech and debate team. Interpretation of Poetry, back then, turned out not to be my thing, and I moved on to humor and then original oratory, but apparently that poem stayed with me.

Or sort of: I could only remember what turned out to be the title. Not who wrote it or anything helpful about it. I had the vague sense it involved a train taking a body home (I thought it was Lincoln, but that was not the case), which seemed like it might be just the ticket for my uncle who loved trains.

The Miracle of the Internet got me started, but it took a librarian to close the detective work. I managed to determine it was a poem by Thomas Hornsby Ferril, a Colorado poet laureate who probably wrote this particular poem (“Cadetta — C&S”) in 1960. But it took the Librarian to the Stars, a friend also named Nancy (also an Aunt Nancy — she was the host for the Friday night Niece Fest), to track the poem down right in my own neighborhood library.

They say he was a mountain man who went
Down to the city and died and is going back.

It’s good to know some of the ol’ synapses still fire, hm?

So Sunday there was at least a hint of the Scottish Highlands right there on our property, and by Monday night we’d moved east to the Irish Spring, and we’ll just see if we can’t get our deer straightened out to put in appearances when they’re wanted and not when they’re not.

It’s okay: no bagpipes, and cattle standing in for deer.

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