I was raking dead leaves and gathering them in a dark corner in the back of the yard where I had decided to establish my own compost pile. There weren’t many of them – a couple wheelbarrows full, at most – and not nearly enough to justify forking out the Big Bucks for a carton of compost bags. And one large component of this gardening binge I’m on is economy and getting the most bang for my buck. Besides, I thought, I can use the compost as fertilizer for my fabulous garden!
The aforementioned raking was taking place in the evening after the sun had already set because I had been out earlier and had just gotten back. Since some fairly significant rain was predicted for later that night, I wanted to at least have the leaves out of the way so the ground could soak up the water and make it easier for me to turn it over with a shovel as I began to break it up and get it ready for planting. This meant that it was dark outside, and while there was some ambient light from security lights attached to buildings surrounding my yard, it wasn’t much.
I was only raking some leaves and a few branches, anyway, so I didn’t see the lack of light as much of a problem. I got to work, vaguely aware of what my new neighbor in the adjoining apartment might be thinking if she saw me raking or digging holes or doing God-knows-what in my backyard under cover of darkness. And then I remembered something: If you move to the Heights and you’re not prepared to live with at least a little bit of strange, you’d better start looking for a new place to live!
I was clearing leaves along the long, narrow strip of space between the deck and the south fence when my rake pulled out something that was very definitely not a clump of leaves. To my horror, however, it did very much resemble a dead squirrel. I could see the body, the two hind legs and its long tail protruding stiffly. This poor little guy (or gal) had been buried under the leaves for a while, but not so long that it was as flat as a pancake. I bent down and sniffed cautiously to see if I could ascertain how “fresh” it was. Nothing.
Odd, I thought. It should smell like something! Maybe my nose wasn’t close enough. I squatted down, leaned in and waved the air directly above the specimen towards my nose, just like I’d learned to do in chemistry class to avoid becoming overwhelmed by noxious fumes. I expected at least a hint of rancid gaminess. Still nothing.
I went inside to fetch a flashlight. As I returned to the back yard, I steeled myself for what I was certain was to be a gruesome vision: A dead, half-shriveled, maggot- and beetle-infested rodent. Ew!
I approached cautiously and turned on my flashlight. It was a dead tree branch with a knot attached.