Beatles or Baseball?

I was fourteen during the summer of 1964, and I had two big loves: the Beatles and the Philadelphia Phillies. I’d been in love with the mop-haired Brits ever since they’d appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show months earlier and since seeing them on TV, had spent all my allowance money on their records and fan magazines, and had scotch taped their pictures to my bedroom mirror. And the Phillies? I’d loved the game of baseball and had been an ardent Phillies fan ever since I was a little girl, and I well remember listening late at night to their West Coast games on the little transistor radio I kept hidden under my pillow. From the beginning of the 1964 season, the Phillies had been in first place and were heading for glory and a World Series berth. Or so everyone in Philly thought at the time.

My parents approved of the Phillies, but certainly didn’t look kindly upon the Beatles. My father, an immigrant from a shtetl near Kiev in what had been the Russian Empire, was old enough to be my grandfather, and he regarded with suspicion the writhing group of young men who had caused his quiet and studious daughter to scream when they appeared on Ed Sullivan that fateful Sunday evening. So, when I got a ticket to attend the Beatles concert that was coming up on September 2, he was none too pleased. How about, he suggested, instead of going to the concert, you go with me to a Phillies game? My father almost never took us kids anywhere (except for occasional trips to Atlantic City), and he certainly never took me anywhere on my own, let alone to a Phillies game. So his offer put me in a quandary. It pitted my two big loves against each another, with my father’s love thrown into the mix. In the end, it proved to be an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I caved in and gave my Beatles ticket away—convincing myself that I was now a mature young lady who was above all that screaming and hysteria. When the day came, we traveled to the game by subway on our way to Connie Mack Stadium. When we got off the subway and headed to the street, we were greeted by a taxi driver calling out, “Beatles or baseball?” (Looking back, it does seem odd that the driver should have called out thus, as the two venues, Connie Mack Stadium and the Convention Center, were nowhere near each other, but perhaps he had found himself caught up in in all the excitement: the Phillies in the playoff hunt and playing at home, and the Beatles performing in town. And “Beatles or baseball?” certainly had a ring to it!)

The outcome of the game didn’t stick in my memory, but looking it up on Google, it turns out that the Phillies won, 2-1, against the Houston Colts. What I do remember is how upset I got with myself just a few days later about giving up the chance to see the Beatles. Stupid! I berated myself. It’s not every day you get a chance to see them! How could you have given your ticket away?! Towards the end of September, I felt even worse, as the Phillies, the team considered a shoo-in to play in the World Series earlier that month, had gone on a ten-game losing streak, and ended up in second place. No Beatles concert, no World Series. I felt bereft.

Luckily for me, the Beatles returned to Philadelphia a few years later. In the summer of 1966, they played at J.F.K. Stadium, and this time, I kept the ticket I had bought and went. It was hard to see them as I was sitting far away from the stage (they were wearing bright green suits and were so far away that they did kind of look like their namesakes, albeit with guitars), and you couldn’t hear much for all the screaming, but I was ecstatic anyway. And the Phillies? They didn’t get to play in the World Series until 1980, and I was long gone by then, wearing orange robes and teaching yoga and meditation in Fiji.

Live and Let Live

One hundred years ago, on September 1, 1914, the last passenger pigeon died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. Thus ended the sad story of the mass slaughter of a species of bird that once numbered in the billions, whose migrations would darken the skies across parts of the country for days at a time. The extinction of the passenger pigeon came about because they were hunted relentlessly, tens of millions shot from the skies, stuffed 300 to a barrel and shipped by trainloads, where they were then cooked and eaten up and down the East Coast.

Today, thankfully, we have the Endangered Species Act protecting thousands of species from the fate of the passenger pigeon. However, the same mentality that lead to the pigeon’s demise is still too much in evidence today: the attitude that other species exist for our pleasure and sustenance, and the idea that if another species is inconvenient to our way of life, we should just get rid of it.

Take our typical approach to landscaping. We pour herbicides and pesticides on our lawns to achieve the green, weed-free look so many of us desire. Besides the obvious health risks of these chemicals, they also turn our lawns into ecological deserts. For gone are the dandelions and clover that native bees and other creatures so love, gone are the insects that insect-eating birds crave. (Not to mention that these plants can be eaten by us as well, and you never know when you might need them!) The same goes for our backyard gardens. We can’t tolerate the thought that our Swiss chard could get one or two insect holes—or that deer, groundhogs, squirrels, or rabbits should eat any of what we have labored so hard to cultivate. We put out traps to catch groundhogs or rabbits, then relocate them, feeling virtuous that we didn’t kill the darned creatures instead. (More on groundhog-trapping a bit later.)

Considering that these creatures have been here far longer than we have, you’d think we’d be a bit more humble and willing to share. Modern humans appeared a mere 200,000 years ago, while white-tailed deer first appeared 3 to 4 million years ago. The grey squirrel has been here even longer and is traced back 50 million years. Perhaps the prize for backyard species longevity goes to rabbits, the oldest known species of which having appeared at least 45 million years ago. We’re the new kids on the block, and these old timers have every right to exist alongside us. Instead of killing or trapping these creatures, why not try to coexist with them by planting things they don’t like (daffodils instead of tulips, for example) or by excluding them from the tasty plants they can’t resist? After all, an unfenced garden is akin to a rabbit or groundhog all-you-can-eat buffet, and you can’t blame them for dining! And here’s another radical thought: What if they do eat some of the plants we cultivate? Is that so terrible?

Four years ago, when my husband David and I moved to our new home, we dug up a sizeable part of the backyard and put in a vegetable garden. The first year, even though we knew we had a local groundhog, we didn’t put in fencing, deciding to experiment and see what would happen without it. Predictably, the groundhog ate most of what we had planted. We decided to capture and relocate the critter, until I learned from our local wildlife rehabilitation clinic that our relocated adult groundhog would likely die. (Groundhogs remain in the same territory year after year and most cannot adjust when relocated.) So that’s when we decided to groundhog proof our garden. We put in not only fencing (and a kind of fencing that a groundhog would find difficult to climb), but aluminum flashing buried a foot and a half below ground, so the groundhog couldn’t dig its way in. It worked, and now we coexist with our groundhog, who makes his (or her) home under our gazebo. Despite our garden being off limits to him, he still finds plenty to eat, managing to eat some leaves that poke their way out through the fencing. He also eats lots of clover, as we have a natural lawn abundant with what the lawn care industry would call “weeds.” We’ve named our groundhog Ryan (why is another story), and we often see him standing in the middle of the yard on his hind legs, gnawing on an apple that has fallen from our tree, as if he owns the place. When I go out into the yard, Ryan lumbers away, surprisingly quick on his feet for such a fat creature. A week or two ago, we noticed that he had worn out a perfectly straight line in our yard, from the apple tree to the fence that he runs to and under when he’s disturbed. We laughed and considered that it was a good thing the apples were nearly gone. Otherwise, Ryan would soon turn his path into a dirt track.

We enjoy all the wildlife in our back yard from the finches, nuthatches, cardinals, and chickadees; to the squirrels, rabbits, and Ryan the groundhog; to the native bees buzzing around our raspberry vines and clover. Sure, the squirrels eat some of our tomatoes (taking one big bite and leaving the rest), and the rabbits eat the young hosta leaves in the spring. But our lives are so enriched by the wildlife that we wouldn’t change a thing.