With a sigh I picked up the rake and began smoothing out the gopher mounds. Top dressing Tom calls it but to me it simply signals my defeat at the paws of the pocket gophers. When I arrived at the ranch two years ago the yard in front of the house consisted of dirt and weeds. A Midwestern girl at heart I envisioned ranch guests romping on a sweep of green grass, throwing Frisbees and playing croquet. Xeroscaping may be the norm here in Arizona but Aravaipa Canyon is a riparian ecosystem supporting groves of pecan trees and cottonwoods and all manner of flora. If ever there was a place for a green lawn, this was it.
The first year I spent on my hands and knees tediously pulling weeds out by hand. Grit covered my knees, dirt crusted my fingernails and the sun baked me to a crisp but I persevered. As the ranch is only yards away from the creek the water table is shallow and I hesitated to use any chemicals that might leech into the ecosystem. Wild tobacco, goatheads, horse nettles and many more plants than I can’t name flourished in the yard but between the invasives was the promise of hardy Bermuda grass. If I could manage to yank the weeds and water the Bermuda, a lawn would be born. Day after day I worked on the soon-to-be lawn section by section, foot by foot pulling and raking. At night I watered and to my amazement my strategy worked! The Bermuda happily soaked up the H2O, spread its runners and reseeded itself into a lawn that would make any Midwesterner proud. It also created a four star restaurant and quite quickly the pocket gophers tunneled in to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
I battled those little critters all year. Most of my neighbors recommended using traps so I decided to give that a try until I discovered what was involved. First you have to find a fresh gopher mound and determine which way the dirt fans out. At the point of the fan is the supposed gopher hole. Once you figure out which way the dirt is flying you take a shovel and dig down to find the entrance to the tunnel. It rankled me no end to have to dig up the grass I worked so hard to grow but it was brought to my attention that one has to find the tunnel no matter what strategy is employed so dig I did.
Gophers are crafty critters that do not believe in the value of straight lines. Once you find the tunnel you have to clear it and stick your hand in to find out which way the tunnel actually goes and it never goes the way you think. Gopher traps are vicious things that you have to set and carefully place down in the tunnel. When the gopher crosses it, the trap springs and impales the gopher right through the throat killing it immediately. Pulling up a trap with a dead gopher on it should bring a sense of victory but not for me. Dealing with dead gophers is not my idea of a good time and getting them out of the trap is no easy task. The first catch I called my neighbor to help and she brought her dog Brandy. Brandy whipped that gopher off in seconds flat! I tried to teach my dog Oro how to do that too but Oro looked at me like I was crazy and backed away faster than I did. When I nabbed my second gopher fortunately my friend Guati happened by and dealt with the gruesome task for me. Two dead gophers plus the sheer number of fresh mounds that littered the lawn was all it took for me to decide another strategy was in order.
Rodent bombs, muriatic acid, and poison pellets didn’t really work. Well, they worked in so far as they encouraged the gophers to move to another section of lawn. By now it was a toss-up as to who dug the most holes, me or the gophers, but the battle was on and I was determined to save the lawn. Each morning I walked the grounds looking for fresh mounds and those gophers never disappointed. In fact during one day’s reconnaissance a gopher had the nerve to poke his nose out of his hole and smile at me! Cheeky bastard but I had the last laugh as summer rolled around and the snakes came out. I cannot be sure which species did the trick, rattlesnake or gopher snake or perhaps both. It didn’t matter to me as they decimated the gopher population quite nicely and the lawn was saved.
Autumn is in the air and the snakes are holing up for the winter which means the gophers have made their way back to their favorite restaurant. With dismay I survey the dozens of gopher mounds but my days here at the ranch are numbered. Right after Thanksgiving I am leaving the ranch and moving to the next step in my life. The book I came here to write is done and after spending the summer polishing it up it will soon be sent off to the publisher. The summer also brought Tom into my world and soon we will begin a new life together. Even the return of the gophers cannot diminish my excitement at this turn of events and so, much to their delight, I concede victory to the critters. Go for it you gophers. Go for it.