October 9, 2010
Au Revoir, Gopher!
By ANTHONY DOERR
MY wife grows things: children, cucumbers, dahlias. This past summer she filled her backyard vegetable beds with a shamanistic brew of worm castings, coconut husks and interplanetary dust; the vegetables that leap out of that dirt appear to glow with inner light.
But this fall my wife has encountered an old nemesis: the gopher. We wake up one morning to find 100 dead flowers and 15 pitcher’s mounds of sand scattered across the lawn. When the gophers take out the coneflowers, she frowns. But when they come for the lettuce, she puts a bounty on their heads.
Listen, I say, isn’t this part of living in Idaho? Wasps in the gutters, mice in the crawlspace, a screech owl in the garage — isn’t it useless to believe we can sterilize the places we live?
“Hush up, Nature Boy,” she says. “The gophers have to go.” So we call a guy. He shows up in a matching cap and polo shirt, stuffs a hose into a gopher tunnel and pumps it full of propane gas.
“How’s business?” I ask.
“Terrible,” he says. “Keep that garden hose ready. This could start a fire.”
Then he blows up our yard. The detonation is so loud a window in our living room shatters.
Two days later, the gophers have replaced our green beans with three volcano-shaped mounds of soil. So I call Mike Ogden, the acting president of the Idaho Chapter of the National Wildlife Control Operators Association. Six hours later, Mike’s truck is parked in our driveway.
He wears Wranglers and boots; a half-dozen tools are clipped to his belt. Deep reservoirs of calm float in his eyes. If the world suddenly went bad, I decide, Mike is the kind of guy who could amble into the mountains with his Leatherman and feed himself for a year.
Within a minute he’s on his stomach in our backyard, his arm buried to the shoulder in a gopher tunnel.
How’s business? “I haven’t taken a day off in six months,” says Mike.
This is not something one hears very often around here. The Treasure Valley still has a 9 percent unemployment rate. Among the country’s largest 100 metropolitan areas, Boise’s economy remains among the 20 weakest. More than once this fall I’ve heard friends declare they now work for the Government Fishing Team — that is, they collect unemployment and go fishing as much as possible.
Mike, on the other hand, has recently leased a new shop; soon he’ll be adding employees. “The Lord has blessed me with work I love to do,” he says, “and work that needs to be done.”
Mike has trapped beavers on the Boise River and bats in the attics of mansions in Sun Valley. A self-described “frustrated Boy Scout,” he has sorted out homeowners’ conflicts with rattlesnakes, skunks, foxes, feral cats, voles and pigeons. “My business is growing because people are becoming aware that there is somebody out there who’s trained and qualified to resolve these issues for them. It’s easier to find a heart surgeon than a guy who does what I do.”
Out here we live at the crossroads of suburbia and something much older. A bull snake lies flattened and looped in the supermarket parking lot; a pregnant raccoon tears off a crawlspace vent and makes itself at home. Everyone’s heard the stories: a mountain lion crossing the cul-de-sac, a black bear knocking over the trash cans. Lately, mountain bikers whisper that wolves may have returned to the Boise foothills.
“In the old days,” Mike says, “people demonstrated their success by building houses in the city limits, close to hospitals, closest to culture. Now people demonstrate their success by building homes in the wilderness.”
My wife and I stand at the kitchen window as Mike extracts one trapped gopher, and then a second, from our lawn. It’s a strange thing to finally see a nuisance that has remained hidden for a long time; you expect it to be bigger. You expect a villain. Instead you get a bucktoothed hamster.
Beyond Mike, beyond the backyard fence, clouds paint the foothills with shadows. I wonder: Who are the intruders here? The gophers? Or us?
Anthony Doerr is the author, most recently, of “Memory Wall.”
What's that foul smell in east Boise?
Credit: Troy Colson/KTVB
Restaurant customers are spending more time inside away from outdoor patios because of skunks in east Boise.
Posted on August 20, 2010 at 4:55 PM
Updated Saturday, Aug 21 at 9:12 AM
BOISE -- Folks in Boise's east end are holding their noses a lot this summer.
A waitress at the Trolley House Restaurant on Warm Springs Avenue says people are staying off the patio and dining indoors because of skunks.
The operator of a local wildlife control business says this is the time of year Pepe Le Pew and his friends like to be out and about.
“You find that all the way from I'd say late spring all the way through the summer and early fall you can find a lot of skunk problems going on throughout the Treasure Valley,” said Michael Odgen, Dengo Wildlife Control.
Ogden says during the late summer and early fall, the younger skunks start venturing father away from their mothers and those younger skunks are more apt to spray than older skunks.
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