“Earth’s alive, and gentle or ungentle motions within her, signify but growth!
“The ground swells greenest o’er the labouring moles.”
– Elizabeth Browning (1806-1961)
The sign – free mole demo – in front of a local plant store would show how to “win the battle” against labouring moles rather than how they add to nature’s master plan.
It was late February – buds on my peach tree, multi-coloured thrushes, and another mole digging beneath my lawn. Two years ago, after the last one left mounds of dirt on the grass, I set out to get rid of it.
“Do you have to kill the mole?” asked my wife, Janis. I’ll tell you that story shortly.
The coast mole is 15 centimetres long. Mink-like brown fur keeps it warm and cozy. Little hairs on its long, fleshy snout emit electric currents that locate earthworms.
But marketing propaganda – which omits such miracles of creation – lists this as rationale for destroying this insectivore. Yes, earthworms add to soil health. Moles eat some in their tunnels, but not all of them. Moles also aerate the soil and eat garden pests such as snails, beetles, and cutworms which devour the roots of grass.
Moles are almost blind. Long, sloth-like claws facilitate digging, and pink back feet shaped like a baseball catcher’s mitt push dirt backwards. If you were to capture a mole – which I did – it might think it had fallen into the grasp of a voracious, shape-shifting alien. The mole I trapped emitted a high-pitched series of terrified squeals.
I’m getting ahead of myself. One device to kill moles is a steel trap to snap their necks – or those of ground hogs, squirrels, and even woodchucks. It was for sale at the plant store, next to another device that releases sulphur oxides when burned inside the mole tunnel. I considered them when my first mole showed up until reading that the fumes “may be harmful if inhaled.” Users should keep “out of the reach of children,” and dispose of spent cartridges underground.
I figured a mole under my feet was a better option.
Poison worms are for sale on the Internet. They didn’t appeal to me, and the following didn’t seem credible: pickle juice, red peppers, razor blades, moth balls. I settled on empty beer bottles with the tops open. The whistling sound of rushing air over them would drive the mole insane. He’d leave.
Mine didn’t. That left the flush-‘em-out-with-water method. The darkest mound of earth was the one the mole dug most recently, and would be closest to. I stuck a hose in it and turned the tap on. Water filling the tunnel made a loud gurgling sound. If I’d been a mole, I’d have bolted to avoid drowning. When I figured the mole passed the next hole in the series, I shoved the hose in that one to prevent his backtracking, and then, in time, other holes down the line. My mole had only one way to escape – upward. Before long, the dirt fell aside at the last mound, and the frantic creature clawed to the surface. Immediately, I scooped him up in a masonry jar. As he attempted in vain to scale glass walls, his cries pierced my heart.
“You’ll be OK, little fellow,” I assured the amazing, forlorn creature.
“Yes, little guy,” added my wife. “In a few moments, you’ll have a new home of your own.”
It was an open field we’d picked earlier. When we dropped our little friend onto the thick grass he glanced back with those weak eyes of his, hoping perhaps, to discern the conflicted beings that imprisoned him, and then, mercifully set him loose. As we watched our mole disappear, Janis said, “This reminds me of (the movie) Born Free.”
I offered the plant store guy a free mole demo. He accepted. You might see a sign.
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.