When we bought our house in downtown Toronto, the wild-life I envisioned had more to do with the early throes of romantic love and the total freedom of my life at the time than the creatures that live nearby. I certainly never thought about animals.
We were thrilled to have our house – excited to the point of being keen to do yard work. As soon as the weather was nice enough, we hit the nursery to buy pretty things for our garden.
Our yard is tiny (average living room size) so once we had flowers, making it beautiful did not take long. I had been warned by my mother, an avid gardener and something of a squirrel specialist, that squirrels can be a threat to plants and added a healthy dose of bone meal to the soil to deter them.
Within hours, my husband and I were relaxing in a flowery paradise, toasting each other with wine, extremely pleased with ourselves.
I now realize that the squirrels were most likely watching and licking their twitchy little lips because the next morning, we discovered that they had feasted like, well, animals, on our gorgeous display.
I called my mother.
She suggested that we try again but make our flowers less delicious. She told me to sprinkle cayenne pepper all over the new plants and that once the puffy-tailed rats got a fiery taste of what we were serving, word would spread and our garden would be safe.
We returned to the nursery, bought new plants for the yard, and added a couple of nice hanging baskets for the deck outside our bedroom.
Ever so slightly less cheerfully than the day before, we planted our plants and hung our baskets. Again, we celebrated with cocktails and enjoyed the evening in our yard.
I was brushing my teeth when I remembered about the cayenne.
I ran downstairs, grabbed the spice and went outside.
It was dark but I could see well enough as I liberally seasoned the flowers. It took the whole bag but it was worth it.
I went to bed confident that my garden was safe.
Other than an obnoxious squeal outside our window (that in hindsight sounded a lot like ‘WoooooHoooooo!’), that stirred us briefly, we slept like logs.
The next morning, we opened the drapes, ready to admire our pretty hanging baskets but found them scattered on the deck, crushed petals and dirt sprinkled all around like they had been attacked.
“How did that happen?” we asked each other.
We walked out – picking our way around the plant destruction – and looked over the railing of our balcony to check on our yard two storeys below. We were pleased to see that our plants were still there.
That was when we noticed the smell.
“Wow!” said my husband. “Someone is cooking up a feast and it’s making me hungry. Let’s go for brunch and deal with this mess later.”
As we went downstairs, the cooking odour got stronger.
A lot of curry.
Then curry overload.
I went to the spice drawer and opened it. A bag of Cayenne sat on top. Missing was the very similar looking bag of Curry Powder.
I had dumped the entire bag in our yard.
As it turned out, we could smell our house from three blocks away. But, as it also turned out: squirrels do not enjoy curry (at least not in massive quantities). Our garden was temporarily protected.
The smell lasted about four days and our plants survived a little longer than that.
I called it a draw.
I didn’t know that this was just the beginning – that nature was at our doorstep, in our garden, and on our deck and that it would drive us to near madness. I had no idea that we would soon find out what had destroyed our hanging baskets. Or that I would eventually know more than I could ever hope to forget about raccoons and their love lives, or that I would learn the difference between a Shanghai King Rat and a Possum.
All I knew then was that we were out of curry.