In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
September, 2007
Regional Report

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Arborglyphs carved into aspens near Lake Tahoe were sheepherders' form of communication and art, explains University of Nevada professor Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe.

Arborglyphs and Unwanted Autumn Visitors

On a recent trip West, I did some time travel back to the 1880s through 1940s when Basque sheepherders tended flocks among glistening-leafed aspens in the Lake Tahoe Basin forest. Ensconced with their sheep for weeks, they communicated by way of trees, carving "arborglyphs" into young aspens.

The sheepherders, visiting families, and female companions carved their names and initials, dates, phrases in several languages, and human and animal figures -- many depicting highlights of everyday life.

Sheepherding, the world's second oldest profession, was fundamental to the development of the West, explained Dr. Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, history professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. He's recorded about 20,000 arborglyphs and written Speaking Through the Aspens: Basque Tree Carvings in Nevada and California.

"I read trees," said Mallea-Olaetxe. He talks about the sheepherder/artists as if they're friends. "EM was a prolific carver who included his initials in distinctive drawings of a horseman and his whip, and a man and woman in detailed country clothes shaking hands. Adele, one sheepherder's daughter, is memorialized in a woman's profile.

As the trees grow, the images change. "Since this is a living thing, nothing stays the same," Mallea-Olaetxe observed.

Deer Woes
Deer are leaving a different sort of mark in my garden. In June they nibbled the tomato vines before I surrounded the container plants with wire mesh. Those wire barriers and strategically placed plastic crates discouraged the white tails for three months. Now they're back, denuding the chartreuse sweet potato vines and the perennial hibiscus 'Kopper King' on these cool nights.

I'm trying a new spray deterrent because a "guaranteed" granular product containing dried blood hasn't lived up to its hype. Besides causing landscape, forest, and plant damage, adult deer here can carry a black, sesame seed-sized deer tick whose bite transmits Lyme disease. The deer tick in the Eastern U.S., the black-legged tick in the South, the western black-legged tick in the West, and the Lone Star tick all can be infected with Lyme spirochetes. Infection rates range from 1 percent to 90 percent, depending on location and tick species. A bite from an infected tick can be quite serious, so be sure to do frequent skin checks for ticks and the telltale red bull's eye.

Unfortunately, deer ticks also attach to birds. A Carnegie Mellon Web site notes birds may be a primary tick vector, spreading ticks from one area to another. Some bird species also are reservoirs of infection. I'll keep an eye out for local reports about infected dead birds, but I'll continue to fill my feeders through winter unless there's a concern in eastern Pennsylvania.


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