Holey Vole-y

June 29, 2010

I should be writing. Instead I sit in my office, staring out the window at a pair of voles cavorting in my front yard.  They scamper back and forth past my Havahart trap, taunting me. 

Living near open space, I’ve had my share of wildlife encounters: skunks ambling up behind the house in the early morning, a gopher snake sunning itself on the garden path, fence lizards doing push-ups on my front deck.  I’ve surrendered our walnuts and pecans to the ravenous squirrels. In the ten years we’ve lived here, I’ve yet to taste a single one.  I’ve moved my roses to preserve them from deer that forage for tender shoots along our driveway.  But this time, the animals have gone too far.

Round holes the size of quarters multiplied among the colorful blooms in my favorite garden.  Then one by one, whole plants began to disappear – sunny marigolds, blue lobelia, cosmos, and impatiens.  What could have caused so much destruction? 

“Voles,” my neighbor said.  She called an exterminator.  I set a trap. 

That day, I caught my first vole – a tiny, gray-brown, mouse-like creature with black beads for eyes. Small ears flattened against its head, its tail short and furry.  So cute, like the hamster my daughter wants.  “Can we keep it?” she pleaded.  Killing it or calling the exterminator was out of the question now.  We released it in the open space far away from our house.  I hoped it couldn’t find its way back.

I filled in the holes and sprinkled a fox-scented repellant around my flowers to protect them.  I set the trap again and patrolled my garden.  I caught three more.  Finally, I think I have eradicated the little pests from my backyard.  All my efforts have convinced them to move elsewhere…

Right into the greener pastures of my front yard. 

Those coin-sized holes now litter my front garden, hidden under star jasmine and periwinkle.  And the critters have gotten wise to my tactics: they skirt my Havahart trap, playing close, oh so close, but never venturing inside.  From my window lookout, I spy two – a courting male and his mate.  If I don’t catch them soon, they’ll have little vole babies and multiply faster than my words.

Can anyone loan me a cat?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

July 19, 2009

Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar was my daughter’s favorite book.  She’d learned to read, while her cute caterpillar friend ate his way through apples and pears and slices of pie.  Although she’s long outgrown it, that book remains on our shelf.  But this week, we had a caterpillar experience that was anything but warm and fuzzy. 

I had planted tomato plants in containers outside on my patio.  In the July heat, the plants grew large and leafy, loaded with plump, ripening tomatoes.  Every day or so, I would inspect my future harvest.  Then I discovered what appeared to a peck on one of the fruits.  A bird, I thought.  The next day, I noticed that a much larger chunk was missing.  No doubt about it, something was eating my harvest.  The pest had destroyed two juicy tomatoes, just as they were ready to be picked.  A squirrel or a rat or perhaps a raccoon?  The planter box had wheels, so I rolled it across the deck to another location, reasoning that I could outsmart the culprit.  Little did I know that I had simply wheeled the perpetrator along with the plants.

The next day, more fruit was damaged.  Then I discovered the biggest caterpillar I had ever seen.  Three to four inches long and about the thickness of my index finger with what appeared to be a thorn on its tail end.  Yuck!  The monster clung to a tomato stem, its pale green coloring providing the perfect camouflage.  “Very hungry” didn’t even begin to describe this ravenous beast.  It had stripped the stem of all its foliage and was chomping away at a green tomato.  A tomato hornworm.  Gross!

My daughter pled to adopt it as a pet, thinking it would soon make a cocoon and perhaps change into a beautiful butterfly.  My thoughts were far less charitable.  I dispatched the pest and now keep vigilant watch over my tomato plants for more of its ilk.  Oh, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar?  I don’t think I shall ever read that book quite the same way again.