Not In My Backyard

Written By: Susan Berger  Ellman

I am not a suburbanite. Although I grew up in a house in Brooklyn, it had a burglar alarm and wrought iron bars on the windows. So when my husband, Stu, and I bought our summer house in Remsenburg more than fifteen years ago, my first thought was hiring a doorman to sit on the front porch.

Since this was not possible, we eventually installed an alarm and later cameras. Watching the video, I see deer munching perennials, raccoons gazing at the garbage cans. Thieves of the human variety are not my main worry. It’s the animals that move in when we are away.

The fauna’s entitlement to our property was clear as soon as we bought the spec house. Although mostly finished, the bunny-filled backyard was un-landscaped and un-pooled. Over time, we hired a contractor to dig a swimming pool. We fenced the perimeter and planted tiny trees and shrubs to hide the fence. The baby plantings have since grown massive and the Hydrangeas have fluffed out nicely with tie-dyes of pink and blue. We can no longer peer into our neighbors’ yards.

But despite the fencing, nearly every summer we discover some new form or phylum of uninvited visitors, usually via the backyard, although the sugar ants love “summering” in our kitchen.

One of the first invasions involved our swing set—the site of many of Mother Nature’s squatters. The most aggressive was a family of crows– aptly named a “murder”. Our murder relished perching themselves on the parallel bars. They were a family of five, then outnumbering us by two, and possibly out-smarting us. Like a stanza from Poe, these large, menacing birds, sat, entitled, on top of that set most of the day, swooping in, cursing us out in crow vernacular, from a tree behind the swings whenever my then-preschool age son and I approached. Eventually, neither of us wanted to swing as the crows left other evidence of their ownership all over the swings. Friends warned me of crows’ high IQs and how difficult it would be to banish them. Stu, a jokey type, even named the family of crows– the Friedmans*– after a brainiac at my high school, who, I had once informed my husband, was far smarter than him.

But I refused to be outsmarted by a bird with a brain the size of a Jawbreaker. I was still at the helicopter Mom stage of reprimanding older kids attempting to intimidate my first-born in Central Park, so damned if my cherub would not be allowed to swing on his very own set. Although “the Google” still was young, I searched for a solution and discovered that pinwheels are crow Kryptonite. I bought a few sparkly spinners, attached them to the bars, and had the swing set power washed. Farewell, Friedmans! Nevermore…

A different bird family must have found us through the bird version of VRBO during a later summer. We had opened the pool early, before regularly coming out to Remsenburg. A family of ducks deduced our pool/pond was abandoned, and this would be the perfect locale to swim and quack for the summer. Unlike the Friedmans, Mr. and Mrs. Duck were discreet about using the “pond,” though I think I saw them gliding around in the moonlight. How romantic!

Like the Friedmans, however, they did leave deposits. Although the pool got cleaned weekly, I was forced to invest in a pool vacuum, a net for more accessible evidence, and eventually, duck deterrents. No guns were involved. I did discover, however, that ducks hate fire and things that resemble flames. Our pool service informed me that ducks also despise swans.

I bought life-size inflatable swans to float in the pool as well as the King Kong of inflatable swans that would only fool a very stupid duck. Then, I poked orange stakes we used for snowplows into holes around the patio and tied strips of holographic tape to the stakes. The tape blew in the wind like tacky banners, reflecting the sunlight in a way that, apparently, resembles an inferno to web-footed creatures. Clearly, the pond had become a treacherous, swan and flame-filled hellhole. So the Ducks went, with a quack and a waddle and a quack… And the pool vacuum retired to the garage.

But there was no such vacuum for our next, and most illustrious, uninvited summer guest, who my family would name Vlad. The sun was blazing, and my daughter and I decided to rest by the pool. She cranked open the pool umbrella.

“Mommy,” my little girl said, her eyes wide, “There’s something in the umbrella.” She backed away.

Imagining a large insect, I said, “I bet it’s nothing. Probably a moth.” I poked my head under the half-open umbrella. Two round black eyes stared back at me from an upside down, somewhat cute head. I tried to reconcile moth with two black eyes.

I ducked out and then under again. Round black eyes from the mouse-like head stared back as if irritated that I had disturbed his siesta. It was then that I noticed the leathery wings swaddled tightly above the mouse-like head. I backed away from the umbrella, gently shoving my daughter back.

“It’s a bat,” I whispered loudly to my daughter who shrieked. We walked backwards, counter-clockwise along the edge of the pool from the shallow end to the deep end then back to the shallow, where we scampered like frightened deer on to the deck and in to the house.

We stared at the umbrella from the sliding doors, mentally willing the bat to surrender his hiding spot.

I texted my friend Alexis, who lives in the wilds of East Quogue year-round, and, perhaps, had experience with bats. I learned that because Alexis is originally from Queens, she does not suffer bats gladly. She assured me that she was driving over with a broom. I texted, “Okay…”

The bat stayed put. Then, perhaps noticing a breeze in his half open shelter, he came flapping out, revealing rather large wings, which he flapped away into our fully-grown trees. Alexis arrived with her broom, ticked off and loaded for… um… bat, but she was too late. We thanked her. She seemed disappointed to not use her broom.

Since the next day it rained, we did not go outside. When the sun came out again, I laughed at myself for turning the crank of the umbrella from two feet away.
“There is no way the bat is in there. Just stop this now. It is truly bats.” I cranked the umbrella more aggressively.

Sure enough, two round black eyes stared back at me, as alarmed to see me as I to see him. It was Vlad. He may have even introduced himself as Vlad.

Feeling brash, I stomped around the umbrella and then scampered back into the house like a frightened bunny.

I dialed Stu, who was on his way home from golf. “That (expletive) bat is back in the umbrella again,” I spat into the phone.

“You’re kidding,” he said. “Relax. I’ll get it.” But I could hear terror in his voice.

While waiting for Stu to exterminate the bat, perhaps with his nine iron, I googled “bats in umbrellas.” Apparently, bats are as territorial as crows and have a kind of radar in their little bodies that helps them return to where they enjoy—ahem– hanging out. They particularly like umbrellas. Who knew?

Stu grabbed a snow shovel from the garage. He whacked the umbrella with the shovel, and Vlad tumbled out in a spastic, flappy state, like a guy awoken from a drunken sleep and kicked out of the house by a furious girlfriend. Stu backed away from the umbrella yelling something starting with, “Holy.” Vlad got it together and flew back into the tall trees via the same route he took the first time we met.

Having researched bats fully, we realized we could not drive Vlad from the umbrella. It was shady and dark. It was damp and smelly. And Vlad felt it was his. So, we decided to take the umbrella away from Vlad. We unscrewed it from the metal stand, laid it down near the patio, and Vlad did not return. Eventually, we replaced the green umbrella with a blue one, and, to be safe, I tie it up tight.

It’s been a steep learning curve for this native New Yorker to cope with uninvited houseguests with fur, feathers, and wings. But just as I became street wise enough never to make eye contact on the D train and to always carry mug money, I feel qualified, now, to protect my family from animals of all kinds on the mean streets of Remsenburg. After all, I’ve got an arsenal in the garage of faux swans, flaming tape, pinwheels, and the dreaded snow shovel. Don’t mess with Brooklyn.



*Name changed to avoid offending the honor student’s family by comparing them to angry birds.