Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Gopher's tale....

Gophers. The rodentia we love to hate.

Okay, there are other rodents we humans dislike, but this is a gopher tail...I mean "tale"...ahem.

When I first moved to Pescadero and noticed the tiny piles of earth pushed up all around my garden, I was amused. What industrious little creatures I thought. And, when I planted my kitchen garden and some of the lettuces I planted, alongside the herbs, began to disappear, I thought "no worries, I've enough to share".

One sunny afternoon I was weeding around an oregano when I noticed one of my newly bolted lettuces swaying as if a small earthquake was rocking the earth beneath it. When at last the stalk keeled over, a small brown head breached the surface of the opening where the lettuce had been. It grabbed the end of the stalk with its teeth and began pulling it, as if wishing to get it, and itself, back down the hole and undercover. It seemed to take no notice of me, although I was just inches from the hole. I wondered if, as I'd heard, that gophers were mostly blind and, since he seemed either unaware or uninterested in my presence, I moved closer.

I pulled off a piece of the lettuce nearer the top of the stalk and proffered it to my new friend. He ate it. I fed him another piece. Amazingly, he seemed perfectly content to eat from my hand - or perhaps, being mostly blind, he couldn't actually see my hand, though he seemed to be staring right at me. We continued like that, my gopher and I, for some time, until he grew full or I grew weary...or having adjusted to the blinding light of the top-side world we humans inhabit, he, not being visually impaired after all, finally caught sight of me and my hand. Curious.

I like gophers. I like to think they like me too. We have an arrangement. They eat my lettuces and whatever else tickles their palate and, in exchange, they leave me lovely little piles of gopher-sifted dirt all about the garden - which, if you haven't tried it, makes gosh-darn-great potting soil.

My husband doesn't love gophers. He doesn't like the mounds of dirt strewn about the garden, but he's a soft touch, and has never thrown a smoke-bomb down their holes or tried to poison one. He cheers when our cat, Mr. O. E. White, who watches gopher holes for hours, finally catches and eats one, but he could never bring himself to harm them. Once you've come face to face with one, you're hooked -- those beady little eyes, those prodigious ivories (that can bite right through a heavy leather glove), those stubby little hairless rat-like tails -- they are irresistibly cute. On occasion, when we manage to catch one, or we decide to rescue one from the cat, we "relocate" our gophers to "another garden" (fields and forests) down the road.

Yesterday, I heard a soft rustling in the leaves beneath our eucalyptus tree and moved closer to investigate. It was a big one. He seemed a little lost, as if he couldn't find the hole he'd come out of. Thinking quickly, I pulled off my sweater, folded it three times to protect my un-gloved hands and every bit as quickly as O.E., faced with a similar opportunity
would have done, I pounced. What to do with a gopher when you've got him is another matter altogether. I scooped him up and called for reinforcements. I yelled across the creek to my best friend and neighbor, Petrea, that I was on my way to reassign my gopher (who was by now desperately trying to chew through my sweater) to the fields by the old cemetery up the road. She agreed to be my accomplice, and I grabbed the first rodent claw and tooth-proof container I could find - my kitchen trash can (with lid) - and stuffed my sweatered catch into it. I grabbed my thickest pair of gloves and off I/we went.

We set him free and he scurried for cover beneath a tangle of leaves and brush under another eucalyptus tree. Maybe he won't know the difference. Hopefully our wee pest has avoided capture by the hawks and owls that fly above the fields...found new gopher holes and new gopher friends...and will live a long and happy life!

I'll spare you another thousand words in exchange for one final picture....

Lisa (& Mauro)

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