Showdown in gopher gulch

When I was a kid, there were few things I hated worse than having to spend a weekend afternoon mowing my parents’ lawn, so I have to admit it’s a little perverse that I get pleasure from ordering my own kids to do the same.

But grass itself is a perversion.

Why are we so addicted to the stuff? A casual stroll through any Hood River neighborhood would show that nine out of 10 homes are graced with an expanse of lawn. A reasonable assumption from this observation might be that 90 percent of Hood River homeowners enjoy mowing.

Am I right?

Of course not. My across-the-street neighbor, at this very instant, is noisily running a weed-whacker along the edge of his fence. I can see him, and the expression on his face is not that of a man doing what he loves. I’ve seen happier expressions on patients getting their blood drawn.

Growing a lawn is a weird compulsion. I know from personal experience that we just can’t help ourselves. When we bought our current home, it had obviously been many years since anyone had paid any attention to the yard, and I paid perfectly good money for someone to pull out the old weedy grass, grade the soil glass-smooth, then roll out a living carpet of green. Perfectly good money! For what it cost, I could have gotten the same effect by covering the yard edge-to-edge with $5 bills.

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At first it seemed worth it. It was soothing to the eye to stare at the lawn’s perfect greenness, a pleasure to walk across it barefoot; the succulent blades of grass sliding tenderly between my toes.

But the damn stuff has this nasty habit. It grows.

My pleasure lasted exactly a week, at the end of which I was forced to waste a perfectly fine Saturday afternoon out shopping for a lawn mower. Then I spent a perfectly fine Sunday pushing the noisy, smelly thing back and forth across my expensive sea of green, realizing that I had just committed myself to an eternity of fine, sunny weekends doing something my 14-year-old self had sworn he would never do when he got older.

We handyman homeowners are perverse creatures, compelled to do perverse things. We plant a lawn, tossing precious water and toxic chemicals on it to make it grow, then we spend a month of weekends building a nice wooden deck so we don’t actually have to set our “lawn” chairs on the lawn itself. We build the deck so we have a perch on which to sit and stare at the grass. But do we actually admire our beautiful landscape? No. We sit there cursing to ourselves that as soon as we’ve finished our beer we have to mow the frick’n stuff again.

I have been told that a gas lawn mower will spew out as much pollution in a single hour as a normal passenger car will exhale in a full year of driving. Every summer we Hood Riverites dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of the world’s safest and best-tasting drinking water over our lawns trying to keep them growing green. Then we burn hundreds of barrels of our diminishing supply of fossil fuel to keep them from growing too much. The more we mow, the warmer the climate; the warmer the climate, the faster the grass grows and the more water we have to waste to keep it from dying.

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And don’t even get me started on gophers. Oops! Too late. I used to be a bit of a pacifist, but then we bought 10 acres up in Dee. Our property was divided roughly into one-half lawn, one-half pasture, and one-half forest (we do things our own way in Dee). You’d think, with two-halves of the property fair game for the burrowing rodents, they’d leave the third half alone. But they wanted the whole place.

We were blessed with a deep, soft, stone-free soil, perfect for planting a huge vegetable garden, and — if you’re a gopher — for doing the backstroke. I did some research, discovering that (and I quote), “Gophers never dig their tunnels more than 18 inches deep.” I should have known better, because this same website told me (and I quote again), “It is inhumane to try to trap or poison gophers in the spring, because this is when they are raising their young.”

Anyway, I took 18 inches as gospel, and went about gopher-proofing our vegetable garden. I built a 6-foot fence around the periphery, then dug a trench 2 feet deep around the entire fence. I lined the ditch with overlapping metal roofing panels, then overlapped the panels with chicken wire that extended out of the ground and 3 feet up the fence.

The garden was practically bullet proof. There was no frick’n way a gopher could get in there. We planted with abandon, with long rows of garlic and onions, mounds for potatoes, towers for tomatoes. And the gophers took it all. I hadn’t built a gopher-proof garden; I’d built a gopher sanctuary! As far as I know, it’s the only gated community for gophers in the world.

As I mentioned earlier, I used to be a bit of a pacifist. But we had a plague of gophers, insatiable and untrappable. My pacifism waivered. We had lost hundreds of dollars in blueberry bushes alone and spent countless hours trying to trap and gas the little creatures. And there’s only so much a man can take.

One sunny morning I was out on the lawn tractor, mowing what was left of our lawn, plowing over the plethora of gopher mounds. As I maneuvered the tractor across the yard, suddenly a gopher popped out of the ground directly in front of me. Instinctively, I swerved to avoid running the little critter down. But I quickly came to my senses, straightened back to my original course, and pushed the throttle down just a little harder.

If God has a lawn, I’m sure he’ll forgive me.

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Craig Danner is a novelist and physician assistant living in Hood River with his wife and two teenage sons. He can be reached at (541) 436-4144.

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