When we bought our first home, we were young and reckless.
The only property we could afford was a tiny rock-roofed crumbling stucco 1950s home sitting on a quarter acre of tumbleweeds. There was orange shag carpet covered in pet debris in every tiny room and an O’Keefe and Merritt stove in a kitchen that hadn’t been cleaned since the Eisenhower administration.
It was perfect.
It came with newly retired couples on either side of the chain link fences running the length of our yard.
They tried to digest the fact that twelve year olds had just bought the property.
I was wearing braces at the time. I can’t blame them.
The elderlys welcomed us to the neighborhood, told us about every single resident on the street, and then sat back to watch the show…for the next twenty years.
They were always leaning over the fence, watching.
We went up in their esteem when they saw us clearing the land.
They both gardened and had plenty of advice for where my tomatoes should go and how many corn stalks to a hill and when and which variety of fruit trees to put in.
I took their advice with a smile and a nod and did just as I pleased.
The one thing they agreed on was that gophers are pariahs.
And they must die.
“You can’t drown em out, you know,” began one, “those tunnels go all over the neighborhood. I have a spare smoke bomb in the shed you can use, but sometimes, I just plug all the holes in the yard and snake a hose in there connected to my truck’s tail pipe. It’s cheaper.”
“Poison,” insisted the other, “you gotta stick this stuff into a fresh hole and cover it up. They’ll go back to their dens and die.”
“Costco,” said Hubby, “Costco carries hollow vibrating underground tubes that scare the vermin away.”
“Plant garlic, dear,” said the lady across the street, “onions, marigold, and hot peppers all around your borders.”
I smiled and nodded. But none of those ideas ever worked.
Then came the summer of an epic, Egypt-worthy gopher plague.
It would have toppled a pyramid.
Our huge above-ground pool liner was ridged in the bottom from collapsed tunnels.
It’s stupid when you can trip in a swimming pool.
One morning I looked out the kitchen window and noticed the baby fig tree that we had just planted was shorter than yesterday. Staring harder, I realized the tree was moving. It gave a gentle shake, like a breeze was moving it, then dropped another three inches.
The slender boughs were being yanked down the gopher hole when I ran up to it. I gave them a hard tug, and the last of my sweet baby tree rested in my palm.
I don’t often enter wars, but when I do, victory is the only option.
There was no hope, none at all, for these enemy rodents.
I looked up and the neighbors were watching.
They admired the gleam in my eye.
We formed an alliance on the spot.
The Gopher Wars began.
I, delicate female and advocate of peace on earth, became a hunter the likes of Nimrod.
I grew skilled in the use of the box trap. These same hands that rocked the baby to sleep a half hour ago donned gloves covered in soil to disguise my scent and laid a precision ambush baited with sweet grass.
I, the mother who would not allow her son to have a toy gun, wielded the death blow to the tree murdering garden destroying vermin once they had wandered into my quagmire.
On either side of the fence, my neighbors did the same. Each afternoon we compared numbers. Each time we caught one, we carved a victory notch in our wooden shovel handles.
We buried the little rodents in their own tunnels, as a warning to other riffraff who might travel that way.
That summer, I caught 15 gophers, a personal record.
And this is how I ended up doing the Haka at sunset over a burial mound in my backyard.