Saturday, July 29, 2006

Gopher Capital Of The World?

Point Arena should be famous for its gophers. Not because there is anything special about them, just that there are so many of them. In fact, Point Arena is gopher heaven. When Ron and I were digging the basement for our house, I noticed the dark top soil was a couple of feet thick, great for plants, which made it great for gophers too.

Pop was raised on a farm near Bakersfield, and he liked to grow vegetables. Of course, gophers like to eat vegetables. Pop worked on the garden evenings and weekends, the gophers ate in the garden around the clock, seven days a week. The gophers’ fondness for his garden irritated Pop. At first Pop thought that he could get rid of the gophers through reason. Gophers could detect approaching danger by the vibrations they felt thorough the soil. So Pop decided to rig some windmills that would rattle on top of the fence posts surrounding the garden, and this would cause the gophers to reason that they were always in danger. It didn’t work. Our property was at the southern end of Windy Hollow, and the wind never stops blowing across it. The gophers quickly got used to the constant vibrations from the windmills, and the fact that nothing bad happened, and just tuned the “danger” out.

It did not take long before Pop concluded that you could not reason with gophers, you have to kill them. His attempts at drowning them with water, or asphyxiating them with the exhaust from our old Chevy, didn’t seem to make a difference, so Pop started trapping them. The wire gopher traps that impaled the gopher as he worked at his tunnel end worked pretty well. The traps were simple and inexpensive. The only problem with them was they were labor intensive. You had to locate a fresh mound, open it, and set and anchor the trap. And reset it if the gopher pushed dirt into it and triggered it before he was in the danger zone. Of course, you also had to remove the dead gophers when the trap succeeded.

Soon Pop had a brilliant idea. He had spare change in his pockets, but not much spare time. Ron and I had a lot of spare time, and were usually broke or close to it. Pop proposed paying us a dime a gopher tail, and we gladly accepted. We set all of Pop’s traps, and borrowed several traps from neighbors. Soon we were trapping gophers to the tune of about a dollar a day. However, after just a couple of weeks our gopher trapping income started to fall – we were running out of gophers. But we had gotten into a habit of luxurious living because of the gopher money, and we didn’t want to reduce our new lifestyle. The cherry coke after school at Titus’ Sweet Shop, a bag of popcorn before going to the Point Arena Theater, and a Cherry-a-let candy bar after the movie. It hadn’t taken long for us to add these luxuries to our expectations. Now the gopher shortage was threatening to take all this away.

About that time we noticed that there was not a gopher shortage on the neighboring properties. Then it dawned on us that as long as there were gophers living next door, they could easily invade and destroy the garden. So without knowing the word “preemptive,” we launched a preemptive attack on the neighbors’ gophers. We soon had our income back to about a dollar a day, and Pop (and his neighbors) had some of the most productive vegetable gardens ever grown in Point Arena.

Sad to say, fifty years have passed and the gophers have recovered and then some. Just recently a high school football game had to be moved because the gophers had taken over the football field. Alice and I were on the School Board when the gophers in the football field problem came up, and one estimate of the cost of solving the problem was $250,000. The days when gophers could be eliminated for ten cents each were long gone.

(The San Francisco Chronicle, where Leftist opinion parades as news, has an article about gopher control without poisons in its 4 March 2006 issue that I spotted a few hours after I posted this. The bottom line - trapping works, if you keep at it.)

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