Desire Paths

Reader, here is where I confess that perfectly manicured lawns (and gardens) make me anxious. You will never (ever) find me using pesticide sprays; I will never be accused of over-mowing (on the contrary, sometimes when my husband or son plan to mow the grass, I distract or persuade them out of it).

I love the sight of clover, of grass that’s just tall enough to ripple in the wind like waves (or like fields in Studio Ghibli movies). Even in a tended garden, when I’m outside, I prefer my reminders of humanity to be subtle. And nature, though it has definite elements of symmetry and order, also leans into a fecund sort of untidiness.

And so, the grass over here is often longer (and greener!) than it might be elsewhere in the neighborhood. And recently, I’ve noticed that this has a new practical consequence: in a lawn a bit in need of mowing, the garden wildlife’s desire paths become easier to spot.

I first learned of “desire paths” years ago, when I read Dominique Browning’s book Paths of Desire: The Passions of a Suburban Gardener. Also called “desire lines” (or “free-will ways,” or “pirate paths,” or “social trails”), desire paths form out of the erosion of use and convenience, rather than out of design. Mostly, they have to do with the comings and goings of people.

But in the case of the most likely makers of desire paths in our garden (chipmunks and rabbits and squirrels), they lead between food source and cover. Hungry, then satisfied, their lightweight bodies are just heavy enough to part the sea of grass through innumerable round trips of gathering.

I love seeing these little open-air channels through the lawn. And, in trying to create a better environment to track the garden wildlife in, I love having an excuse not to mow too often.

Plus, existentially, these desire paths give me hope that all the little mundane movements all of us creatures make daily leave a mark in some way.

In which one of the new chipmunks chooses a new home…

Now introduced to the world, weaned, and savvy(ish) about some good feeding and hiding spots, the new chipmunks have been choosing their new homes this week. Some may have ventured out of the garden, but it looks like a couple have chosen to make their burrows within its borders.

The easiest of them to spot is the one who chose to make his/her home in one of the vegetable boxes. Specifically, the box where the tomato, pepper, and basil seedlings are (though he/she did check out the box with lettuce, peas, and carrots first).

The boxes are stone, so they hold the heat nicely, and they are full of rich, well-draining, deep soil. They provide some nice lookout corners in various directions. And, best of all, they’re close to food (which we are not opposed to sharing)!

Here are some photos I took of the young chipmunk’s scouting, before his/her burrow building began: