he snow is finally going away. The crusted mounds of snow and ice that have besieged our homes since mid-November have finally been reduced to a few filthy piles of frozen mud. I actually saw a little green the other day as I ventured out into my backyard to survey the damage.
As I walked down the side of the garage I noticed that many of the bulbs I planted years before were sprouting and the air had a different texture to it, a feeling of newness because it was touched by the promise of spring. For a second I was filled with optimism at all the new season had to offer and I found myself smiling. Then I saw my backyard!
It looked like one of those satellite photos of Bangladesh after a tidal wave. My backyard didn’t look the way I remembered it. Instead it had been turned into an estuary fed by numerous streams that were quickly filling a new pond. There were ravines and brooks across my lawn, creating an entirely new neighborhood for small aquatic animals.
As if this wasn’t bad enough it was actually growing in front of my eyes, like speeded-up time-lapse photography. I saw little underground hummocks pushing in from what had once been the neatly trimmed edges of my lawn. The first thing I did was to walk over to one spot where a series of trenches were spreading outward across my lawn and stomp down hard on it. The only problem with this particular strategy was that the ground was still very wet and my foot disappeared into the lawn. Looking down I saw that all I had done was to create a nice new mud hole that accelerated the outward trenching effect.
As ice-cold dirty water flooded into my boot I went to pull my foot free but it wouldn’t move. I shook my leg in my best Elvis impersonation but all that seemed to do was work my foot in deeper. For a moment I saw myself standing there all spring – or at least until my wife came home from doing the grocery shopping – with birds using me for a perch and other indignities. In a nervous panic I pulled my foot as hard as I could until it came loose with a tremendous sucking sound. At the same time a startled black creature came flying out of the hole on the tip of my boot, somersaulted through the air and landed on my left shoulder where it dug in hard with its little claws.
For a minute the two of us stared at each other in absolute bafflement. Neither one of us was sure how we had got ourselves into this predicament or how we were going to get out of it. The creature looked like a mouse only bigger. It had a compact body, partially hidden ears and a short furry tail and it sure was ugly. I assume it was thinking exactly the same about me.
The critter came to its senses first, leaped nimbly off my shoulder back onto the sodden lawn and into the labyrinthine world from where I had just ejected it. I didn’t move though because my eyes were fixed on the little gift it had left on my shoulder. Vole poop! War had been declared. I would not have my lawn invaded by leaping, pooping voles. One of us would have to go!
Belonging to a superior species, as I do, despite the occasional comments from my wife, I decided to research my enemy. I went and got my garden encyclopedia and read all about voles and how to get rid of them. The first thing I tried was smearing peanut butter on a bunch of mousetraps I set around my lawn but this came to an end when I went inside to get a sandwich and looked out the window to see my neighbor’s toy poodle sprinting off our property with a mousetrap attached to its nose.
After apologizing to my neighbor and offering to pay for any veterinarian services I decided to try another technique. I explored several different kinds of bait. At first I thought of using some anti-vole products that promised to get rid of the little critters by killing them off with anti-coagulants but as I read about how these chemicals worked all I could think about was the little cartoon creature in ‘The American Dream’ and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I read that the common housecat will deter voles and also that coyotes, foxes, badgers and weasels are natural predators of voles. I thought it best not to introduce these species into the neighborhood and settled on the house-cat option. I went inside and picked up my wife’s white Persian longhaired cat off the couch where it was napping peacefully and took it out into the yard where small trenches were steadily devouring my lawn.
As I went to put the cat down on the ground I discovered that only its front claws had been removed and, rather than let its precious paws touch the ground, it used its rear claws to run up my arm, across my face and affix itself firmly to the top of my head. At which point I let out a loud shout of pain and staggered around the garden trying to disengage the cat’s claws from my skull before it took off most of my scalp. I was in too much pain to worry about what the neighbors might think but it wasn’t like this was something they hadn’t seen before.
I ran for the house and the moment I got inside the cat leaped off my head, disappeared under the couch and wasn’t seen until the next morning. At this point I decided it was time to get rid of those voles before they did me any more damage. I grabbed a shovel from the garage and headed outside to dig the little critters out of my lawn.
For the next few hours I dug more mud and dirt than the developers did when building my house. Occasionally I watched little moving humps run under the lawn as the voles tried desperately to outrun my shovel. It took me six long hours to dig up the subterranean city that the voles were trying to establish on my property and in place of the little trenches across my lawn there were now giant holes of blackened mud everywhere.
Around this time my wife came home from doing the grocery shopping. She put down the bags, walked over to me, smacked me across the side of the head, and then took the bags inside. I looked around at what had once been the beginnings of a decent lawn but now looked like a First World War battlefield and saw her point.
I also saw that some of the piles of mud I had made were moving. One at a time the voles I had evicted dug themselves out of the mud piles and straggled off my property like a column of bedraggled refugees in search of somebody else’s lawn to call home. It may not have been pretty, and maybe my wife didn’t approve of my methods, but, hey, I had won.
Now, when I look out my window and see big, water-filled holes and piles of black mud everywhere I think wistfully of how pretty those snowmounds looked!
Leaping voles, all part of the spring garden show.
By J. G. Fabiano
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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