Hedgerow

Thirty-some years ago our next-door-neighbor planted a long line of fir trees along the edge of his property. His lot is right above ours – literally above, as in perhaps 20 feet up an abrupt embankment cut into the mountainside. He wanted a privacy screen between the houses.

The firs grew. Every few years he’d lop the tops off them, so that over time they formed a dense evergreen hedge about five feet high. In the meantime, he planted table grapes and tall blue irises next to them, and they grew and multiplied as the seasons passed.

Today, H’s hedge completely hides his property from ours, and likewise. The firs’ trunks are about a foot thick and sturdy, but the trees still only stand about five feet high. Woven all through them are grapevines and blackberry brambles. On our side at their roots is a thick groundcover of tough blue vinca, a volunteer cherry tree, a variety of other trees both large and small, and some no-name, very hardy shrubbery. All of it has been here since long before we arrived.

It was this hedgerow – that’s what I call it – that made up my mind about buying this house. Though it was wild and messy and unruly, at least on our side, I loved the idea that within that hedgerow a whole ecosystem thrived. It was a little world all its own.

I was right, too. Within the hedgerow live Bewick’s wrens, titmice, nuthatches and bush tits. Stellar’s jays launch themselves from the top of the hedge and, in fall, dine on the overripe bunches of deep purple grapes that hang here and there. The cherry trees bear fruit in late spring each year, but the cherries are small and bitter, not tasty by human standards. But that doesn’t matter to the birds. When the cherries turn red and ripe, they last about two days before they’re gone. Mr. Wren and I have talked for years about taking that cherry tree out – it leans precariously over the patio and isn’t particularly attractive, but we always end up leaving it there because the birds enjoy the fruit so much. And of course, they perch in its sparse, leggy branches, too, giving us a year-round show.

Other creatures also live in or near our hedgerow. We’ve seen opossums there at dusk, and raccoons after dark, their eyes glowing from the cover of grapevine and evergreen branch. We’ve often seen (unfortunately) big gray rats. There are alligator and blue-bellied lizards, and a host of insects of every kind, from ants to beetles to black widow spiders to butterflies and bumblebees.

As I stand at my kitchen sink, I love to gaze out the window at the Japanese maple branches just outside and the hedgerow beyond. I’ve seen mama and baby hummingbirds perched in the maple. Goldfinches, too.

I was washing out a casserole dish a little while ago, mostly paying attention to that, but glancing out at the hedgerow now and then, too. There’s still snow along the top of it in patches and down at the base of the embankment. Today, under a low gunmetal sky, the dead leaves of the grapevine and the branches of the firs rustled by gusts of wind, the hedgerow looks gloomy, cold and damp. It made me feel glad to be inside, dry and warm.

And then I saw, perched in a hollow of the hedge, a junco. He was all puffed up, staying warm, but mostly protected by the hedgerow itself from the wind. And he wasn’t alone. Within moments I realized the hedgerow was absolutely stuffed with juncos. They were perched all through it, each one of them with their feathers puffed as they hunkered down over their tiny pink feet. I’d always wondered where the flocks of juncos go at night, or when the weather is rough. Now I know. It made me laugh to see so many of them sheltering right before my eyes, yet so easily missed. I pointed them out to Mr Wren. And a few minutes later, it started to snow.

I was feeling blue today, and restless. But seeing the juncos in the hedgerow was an unexpected gift from the world. It lifted my spirits right up. All I had to do was stop thinking about myself for a moment – and look.

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2 Responses to “Hedgerow”

  1. A good view of the creatures who occupy this world with us is usually enjoyable, and always informative. Our back deck and yard is frequented by all sorts of birds, chipmunks, squirrels, and an occasional fox – and this is near the downtown of a mid-size city. About a month ago a huge fly-in of robins passed through. It is good to be reminded that we share this world.

  2. robin andrea Says:

    Love seeing that flock of juncos there. It is great to be reminded who lives nearby and how closely we live to their worlds.

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