It’s coming up on my fourteenth anniversary of living here. I move out to Hickory Head back in 2001 and I fenced in what would become my back yard in July of 2001 once Sam arrived. Bert and Sam lived happily in the back yard until May of 2007, I believe, when my neighbor told me he was going to put up a fence at the back of my property so he could keep cows back there. Gee, with just two more very long pieces of fences and a couple of dozen fence posts, or more, I could have a really big back yard for the dogs. So after a lot of effort, more fence posts than I thought, some wiring for the electrical fence, and some blisters gained from using post hole diggers I managed to fence in an acre or so. The dogs had never been as happy!
There was a bare spot where it had flooded once but that was where I had a firepit. I didn’t expect for there to be a lot of vegetation around that part of the world, but the Southwest corner of the property was a vast tangle of wild grape vines and briars. Moreover, while there were many sizable hardwoods there weren’t any smaller Oak trees or anything like that. There was a large population of white-tailed deer that frequented the area and made their way down to the pond to drink. I wondered if the fence would keep them using my property as a path, and it did, but not because of the fence. Bert and Sam began chasing much larger prey than they ever had before. They nearly caught a doe once and Bert got kicked right as she flew over the fence. There was a very nasty gash over his right eye that bled like a waterfall, but he had a grin on his face.
Strange things began to happen but they didn’t happen overnight. The dogs began to patrol the back acre on a daily basis which meant a path was cut around the insider perimeter of the fence. The deer vanished. I began walking around the property more and I also began keeping the path cleaner. After a couple of years I noticed there were more and more Oak saplings popping up and I realized the deer had likely been eating them before. But the saplings were all being weighed down by those green arrow leafed vines, the ones with thorns so the sapling were stunted and being killed. A program was started to cut the vines off the saplings and by the tenth anniversary of us being here there were some very strong and straight young Oaks. Those who were already growing grew taller and faster once the vines were gone. Songbirds have built nests in these trees, including the tree that was near the firepit, yes, the tree that was knee deep in water earlier this year. That tree wasn’t around in 2004 when the last flood hit.
When I started getting rid of the vines and the thick underbrush the dogs started wandering around the property even more. They’ve created paths that I didn’t led them to create. Lucas, ever the wandering spirit, began his own trail away from the perimeter trails and Lilith has followed in his pawsteps.
What I am seeing now is the young trees are beginning to get high enough off the ground so the vines cannot reach their lower limbs in one season. I really hurt them a couple of years ago and this year there have hardly been any young trees with vines in their crowns. The dogs have begun to hunt in the areas that are more clear, the prey animals they seek are being crowded into a smaller area, so even more vegetation is being pushed down around the young trees. Dogs are helping me civilize the back acre so the Oaks can move in and prosper.
My theory on the dogs helping improve the ecosystem of the backyard was already forming and already taking shape when I learned that the wolves that had been reintroduced to Yellowstone were impacting that area in a very positive way for much of the same reasons. Of course, I was doing work that helped a lot also but at the same time, the dogs were keeping the deer from eating the Oaks while I wasn’t around.
The two places where Oaks have really taken hold is at the back of the old back yard where the old fenceline stood. There are so many there, all of them well over three meters tall, that I may have to thin some of them. The other area is the new run of fence facing the west side of the property. This is the run of fence nearest to where the dog’s water tub stays. My theory is that deer avoid any area where dogs frequent just like the deer in Yellowstone avoid going into places where wolves might be lingering.
There is also a stand of young Oaks in the shadows of the three biggest Oaks at the back of my property; the Dancing Oak, the Middle Child, and the Big Oak. Those are my doings, mostly, for in that area I have nearly driven the vines into extinction. On the first real cold day that I can build a fire outside I’ll drag out the weed eater and do a little more damage to them.
It’s hard to imagine the Big Oak was once an acorn. It was once a tiny two leafed sprout. It was once a meter tall and then after it got away from the vines and the deer and the people, it was a giant. That was well over two and maybe even three hundred years ago. Maybe one day one of these trees that I have helped save will tower over the landscape, be a home for winged singers and furry climbers and provide shade for the better part of an acre.
It has to start somewhere and if that place is here, I’ll be long gone before it has a chance to start well.