Oh Canada goose! How often have I cursed your multitudes. You spread across grassy fields leaving slippery bullets everywhere. One woman and her small dog can barely navigate without falling into the filth. I have wished you into a stew pot or the centerpiece of a Dickens Christmas dinner.
Yet I cannot look at you without smiling. Sitting alone, at the highest point on the roof, you look down on humans walking the paths in Crystal Springs. You cackle and croak, offering us a cranky tongue lashing perhaps, or quoting scripture and spreading the Good News. Maybe you are cursing us, wishing us into stew pots.
You are a cocky fellow, confident and handsome Without your friends and relations, I see how beautiful you are, a living bright-eyed study in black and white and cream. You have something to say and you are a fine dressing for the top of that roof.
I’ll curse you and your friends and relations again, but this morning I bow to your singular spirit.
Every spring, as soon as the first molehill appears, David goes to war. His diligence has resulted in experiments with many repellents, a variety of traps, and more than one explosion.
He was bound to notice the two or three small mounds that appeared in the back yard this week.
“Oh, I’ve got to go get that mole!” he said this morning
Dave isn’t alone in his summer obsession. Our neighbors Bob and Mike are sensible men, but they have also enlisted in the war against the tiny creatures. Just the other day they were standing on the street shaking their heads with concern as they discussed this year’s invasion.
The suburban American male was bred to fight moles. They cannot help themselves.
From my point of view, moles are interesting and harmless little mammals. They are trying to survive. They’re not all bad. They take up very little space, they eat insects and slugs, and they aerate the earth. Their fur can flatten in either direction enabling easy backward or forward passage through their tunnels. The tunnels can be up to six feet deep. Moles are highly territorial, battles between males are frequently fatal. It may seem as though you have a dozen of them tearing up the lawn but it’s usually just one
For a while Dave tired of traps and switched to unorthodox methods. There was the Juicy Fruit gum trick. You shove a stick of gum deep into the mole run. Suburban legend said Juicy Fruit is lethal to moles. I don’t know who started that rumor and I’m pretty sure Dave never really thought it would work, but why not try? For a few weeks the moles were underground gleefully smacking Juicy Fruit.
One summer the crows were catching moles when they were near the surface, and – well, you know the rest. Unfortunately, moles were a snack the crows craved for a while, before moving on to something else. I recently did the same thing with pistachios.
In frustration, Dave once turned to explosive mole eradication. Men like explosives as much as they hate moles. Unhappily for the moles, the explosions were usually tiny but highly effective.
Fortunately, there were no arrests the day Dave’s explosive experiments came to an end. I’m reluctant to say what he used that day lest somebody’s husband be tempted.
We were in the front yard. I stood in the background fearfully waiting. Dave was in a great mood, thrilled with the excuse to create an explosion. He dropped a match in the mole hole he had already prepared.
A huge BOOM resulted. I screamed. The ground shook and seemed to shake for moments after the initial explosion.
It was midsummer, not fall, but the small flowering cherry tree in the front yard shook violently and dropped all of its leaves. I don’t need to exaggerate about these things. Doors up and down the street opened and worried souls scanned the neighborhood for the bomber.
Standing behind the five-foot fence, Dave and I froze for a moment. Then I peeked over the fence and scanned the street in both directions, hoping my expression looked more curious than guilty.
It was back to traps after that. I’ve tried to talk Dave in to letting the creatures have their way for a while, but he believes in defending the home front.
Once spring brings new fawns, it isn’t long before the yearlings separate from the does and join the herd. I thought maybe it was the presence of a new baby that signaled to the yearling to leave her mother’s side.
Yesterday morning I think I saw how the separation actually occurs. A spindly-legged tiny fawn and her yearling sister wandered the field as their mother lay in the grass watching. The rest of the herd was grazing elsewhere.
Every few minutes, the yearling trotted up to her mother. The first time, the doe stood and chased the yearling off. After a minute, the yearling moved close again, as though she hoped for a little comfort after a rude rejection. Once again the mother chased her off, without violence, but with unmistakable firmness that I could feel from the top of the hill where I stood.
Navigating beginnings and endings is a challenge for most of us. Relationships often have to change, sometimes they end. Even sending beloved children out into the world can be a tough transition.
After a couple more tries, the yearling seemed to accept rejection. For the next 20 minutes, while I watched, she stayed within eyesight but never moved in close to the older doe again.
One early morning observation isn’t science, but I think I know what I saw. The yearling needed a determined maternal push in order to move on. She had to come to terms with a change she wasn’t prepared for.
Whether the mother struggled with the change we will never know; but I do so envy her ability to know when, and how, to let go.
The faint scent of blooming white lilac followed us as we walked through the side yard at Sally-lou’s house. When we reached her back garden, a paving stone path led to a garden bridge and a trellis covered in sweetheart ivy.
Sally-lou has spent 28 years creating her peaceful garden, and it shows.
“Everything in this yard, every bush, pot, and decorative object, has a story,” Sally-lou said.
Like a happy little garden sprite, Sally-lou’s five-year-old grandson, Carter, skipped and hopped alongside us, followed closely by the handsome and gentle 100 pound Akita, Taishou (pronounced like cashew). The easy spirits of the child and the huge dog reflected the atmosphere of the quiet garden.
Sally-lou and I met when we were walking our dogs one morning. She’s a friendly, open woman with a beautiful smile. As we talked that morning, Sally-lou told me she once hated the lowly possum but now she’s changed her mind about the creature.
Last July, Sally-lou carried a cup of coffee and Taishou led the way as they enjoyed an early morning walk through the garden. Taishou became distracted by something and when Sally-lou investigated, she found the dog standing over a dead possum near the deck. Six squirming babies hung tightly to the back of the possum who, it turned out, wasn’t dead at all – was only playing possum!
The possum doesn’t intentionally play dead. It’s an involuntary response to stress (like a faint). Fortunately, Taishou was only mildly curious about the creatures, not overly excited or aggressive toward them.
As homely and unloveable as Sally-lou may have found the possum, she wanted to give those babies a chance. She used a pink plastic garden bucket to shield mother and babies as she gently pushed the possums up against the opening under the deck. The little family could stay safe there until the mother revived.
This simple encounter made Sally-lou rethink her beliefs about possums being vicious and dangerous animals. A possum can reluctantly defend itself, if cornered, but the possum most often enters a sort of faint at the first sign of a threat. A frightened possum also releases a foul smelling liquid from its anal glands. How vicious is an animal whose first response to fear is fainting – and what appears to be a loss of – well, you know?
Carter, who was with Sally-lou that day, didn’t have any prejudices about possums. He saw little pink noses, tiny black ears with white tips, almond shaped eyes, and promptly named every one of the babies.
Sometime that night, mother and babies slipped away safely and Sally-lou was satisfied she had done a good deed.
The Facebook pictures Sally-lou posted received more comments than anything she had ever before posted. Most people were amused by her tolerance. They were even more impressed with Taishou’s gentle and mild-mannered interest. Lots of people expressed the same prejudices most of us have had against possums; they are dirty and they carry diseases.
Most wild animals and birds can carry disease, as can our friends and family. Surprisingly, the possum is nearly immune to rabies and distemper. No case of rabies has ever been passed from possum to human. The possum is also a relatively clean animal. Like a cat, she uses her paws to wash her face.
The possum is an opportunistic omnivore and a friend to your garden. She will dine on ticks, insects, beetles, carrion, slugs, and small rodents. Possums love eggs and can bother chickens in an unsecured coop. Chickens are usually more vulnerable to raccoons. Naturally, a possum will help herself to food you leave outside for your cat or dog. The O’Possum Society of the United States calls the possum “nature’s little sanitary engineers.”
We humans equate the possum’s slow ways with stupidity. They seem to be in their own little world when they walk down the street, not even noticing automobiles.
An old joke asks the question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” The answer to that question is, “To show the possum it could be done.”
The possum might be smarter than we think. In studies, possums scored consistently better than any other animal, including rats, cats, and dogs, at remembering where food was hidden. In fact, only humans scored better than the possum.
Possums don’t win beauty contests in the human world. To our eyes, they can appear homely, repulsive creatures. In actuality, possums are harmless and useful animals. As our only marsupial, they are also a unique addition to our wildlife heritage.
We should treat possums as Sally-lou does, we should allow them to move about safely and undisturbed as they go about their good and quiet business.