No fuss over yard as long as Nake tolerates cats 7/9/2013

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2013

No fuss over yard as long as Nake tolerates cats

By John Howell Sr.

When I turned onto Laurel Street, the crape myrtle tree was in full bloom. As I gazed at the clouds of pink blossoms, the thought struck me that it is the biggest crape myrtle tree I’ve seen.
That’s not scientific of course, but I’ll post a photo on Facebook and let you see for yourself.

The tree grows from the yard of our next door neighbor with whom we have a curious relationship. He’s a loner, an antisocial character who mostly avoids all contact with neighbors. 

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 He did give me a wave once. I’d have taken it as a neighborly gesture had he chosen to engage more than a single digit.

We’ve come to call him Snake, or “Nake” for short, sort of like our reaction to a non-poisonous snake. We’re not scared of them but it always gives a start when we encounter one unexpectedly.


Granted, his attitude may be influenced by the spillover from the damncat colony in our yard. The leave him a few gifts. But Nake’s widowed mother, who lived in the house until Katrina, once helped to maintain the colony herself.

“Are those your cats?” my wife asked her in 1998 shortly after we had first moved in next door.
“They’re not mine, I just feed them,” she said.

I’ve since heard now many times over some version of that statement. It is the mantra of New Orleans damncat crazies.

Though Nake takes a Weedeater to the front and sides of his yard a couple of times a year, his back yard has been allowed to go au natural since Katrina.

The elderberry bushes have now grown into trees about 25 feet tall soaring over tangled undergrowth. Of course the damncats love the jungle that it has become.

All of this has brought us to an unspoken understanding. We don’t complain about his jungle and he doesn’t complain about the damncats.

That crape myrtle tree got a diagnosis of termites several years ago.

Unlike regular subterranean termites, the Asian termites that found their way to this place after World War II will take up residence in live trees. We’ve lost a willow and an oak in this block in the last two years.

The crape myrtle termite diagnosis came during an annual inspection. As the termite inspector was walking toward our gate, he spotted tell-tale dirt tracks on the tree where the termites had built tunnels to shield them from the sun while they worked.

 The irony of termites is that as destructive as they can be as a colony, they are weak, almost helpless creatures as individuals, vulnerable even to sunlight.

The termite guy stood somewhat in awe as he showed my wife what he had found. He’d never seen them in a crape myrtle, he told her. If he had brought along with him some surface application, he’d give the tree a treatment right then and there, he said.

That’s when Nake stepped from where he’d been standing unnoticed, listening, from behind his overgrown fence.

He told the termite man in an expletive-laced harangue that he’d better not … etc., etc. to his tree. The termite man was visibly shaken, my wife told me afterwards, and hurried through the perfunctories of his inspection of our premises so that he could leave.

The tree has since flourished in the several years since, termites or not.

There are no longer tunnels visible on the outside. As each new hurricane season has started since their discovery, we’ve wondered whether the creatures just lost their taste for that tough old tree or whether a storm gust will finally bring it crashing down.

And that’s the way things are on Laurel Street, where damncats are plentiful but wharf rats tread carefully and usually only along telephone wires.