August 17, 2009

The Circle of Life Rambles On

Things in life come and go.  Lately my big left toenail has done more going than coming.  It got ripped off a year and a half ago while moving a couch from our rental house into our new home.  It was nearly all the way back in, looked almost normal, when it got torn off again a few days ago.  On a whim, I was moving a chair in the living room when it got bumped.  It must not have been as normal as it looked because one scrape with the wooden foot of the chair and it popped up like the trunk of a car.  The first thing I did was find Veep and ask for her help.  The first thing she did was let out an obligatory howl of disgust, "eeeewwwww."  And then, without even blinking, "Do you want me to get the kids so they can see too?"

After about fifteen minutes of kind of dabbing the thing, trying to get it to lay back down properly, I accepted the fact that I was going to have to debride it.  With only a little hesitation, I grabbed the sucker and quickly yanked it clean.  A very strange feeling.

Below is a picture I snapped after cleaning it up.  It is small so you don't have to see it if you don't want to.  Click on the toenail to see the full size version (pun intended, sorry).


Fortunately it's not too painful and doesn't interfere with biking whatsoever.  Which got me thinking, what are toenails or fingernails for?  I assume they're some sort of vestigial claws, but I don't know that for sure.  In fact, after about 10 years of medical training, I don't remember a single lecture or article that stated "finger and toenails are important because..."  Anatomy was mentioned, how to treat a subungual hematoma or toenail fungus was mentioned, but an essential function or purpose was never alluded to.  I'm sure a quick Google (or Yahoo) search could clear it up but I'll leave that to the gods of the internet.

In keeping with my theme in the title, I was out in the garden the other evening, harvesting some sweet homegrown organic tomatoes when I saw this:


Those are several wasps attacking a grub.  I've never seen anything like it before.  I usually despise wasps and have spent several hours this spring and summer knocking countless nests down from under our eaves and deck.  As a result we've had fewer stings this year (excluding a friend's 7 year old son who, unfortunately, was the first to sit at the table on our deck after we had been out of town for 4 weeks where the wasps had built a large nest with many young larvae they were aggressively "protecting" and stung him no less than 8 times).  

I've always questioned the value of wasps, since I don't think they do much to pollinate flowers the way bees do, and only seem to annoy and possibly sting.  So the above photo was singular in that I now see their value in pest control.  I honestly had never thought about why these particular hymenoptera are a necessary part of life, but apparently they are.  I will, however,  continue to destroy their nests near the house, but will revere their homes on the edge of the yard.

I've mentioned frogs before on this blog.  We have a lot of frogs around our house.  And now that we actually have irrigation in the yard, we have many more.  Last summer I befriended a single frog in our garage.  This year we've found countless frogs bounding around the garage at night.  When the light is flipped on, several small and medium sized frogs can be seem making punctuated getaways to the fringes of the storage area. 

 However, we recently got a furry little black kitten to keep our poor neglected children company.


As reluctant pet owners, Veep and I have insisted the cat's digs are in the garage where his smell will be less noticeable.  True to his species, this as yet nameless cat is a hunter.  I initially thought it cute to see it chase a few hopping frogs around before bedtime.  This, unfortunately, has been to the dismay of the now threatened garage frog populace.  At least twice now we've chased down funky garage smells only to discover disemboweled amphibian corpses.  I'm not sure there is an answer to this problem and have so far let the order of things alone.


Finally, my latest little home project is building some bird houses for the back yard.  We've put up several bird feeders and have attracted a whole host of hummingbirds, robins, and finches.  Unfortunately, the seed has also fortified our burgeoning population of chipmunks that live in the apartment-like rockwork we had installed last fall.  So far they haven't been too bad of pests, but I'm concerned they may overwhelm our garden some day.  But how to control chipmunks?  Apparently it is illegal to kill them in Washington state, so I haven't invested in a nail gun or poison.  The other night, however, the answer became clear. 


Around bedtime Monday we heard an animal shrieking outside our bedroom window, a new animal sound we hadn't heard before.  I went out on the back deck to investigate, only to see a dark winged flash at the edge of the back yard lights.  Squinting, we cold make out a large screech owl on a tree branch.  He continued to scream, perhaps a mating call or hunting call, I don't know.  But it became clear that he could prove to be a big help with the chipmunks--if he hadn't already been snacking on them.  In fact he returned a few nights later when the kids spotted him from the basement windows.  Ironically, their screeches of excitement drowned out the owl's calls and it didn't stick around long.




Don't get me wrong, I don't mind having a few chipmunks in the yard.  But with lots of rocks to hide in and free bird seed to eat, their life is much easier than nature intended.  And thus nature's answer--the screech owl.  So along with several small cedar birdhouses, I'm planning on building a larger one, sized to accomodate a friendly neighborhood owl.  It may hoot or screech in the middle of the night, but we've already been conditioned to loud bird calls by the roosters at each of our neighbors' houses throughout the summer.


And thus the circle of life continues uninterrupted.


  1. why did I click on the toenail? WHY?

  2. That's a sick photo. I'm asking myself the same thing as Kaerlig. I currently have a fingernail that is gradually falling off, but it doesn't look quite as gruesome as yours.
    We've also had similar experiences learning about the pros and cons to wasp infestations. It's a love/hate relationship.

  3. I didn't click the toenail, thankfully. Not sure how that fits into the circle of life but it is a good trick to get plenty of blog comments. ;-)

  4. You really missed an opportunity here, Corey. Jewelry made from your toenail would have made an excellent anniversary present. What is more personal than that?
    Interesting solution to your cute rodent problem: build a birdhouse. I'm glad you elaborated. Your circle of life entry reminded me of an Aldo Leopold essay from The Sand County Almanac. It was one about over-populated herbivores and under-populated predators (human-caused). I couldn't find it online, but if you've got that book, try to find the essay that talks about tassel-eared squirrels chewing off pine bows. He does a great job of seeing (and explaining) the big picture and bringing it around to a solution sort of similar to yours.