War and Truce

While the headlines news focus on the wars or threats of war in so many areas of the world, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been preoccupied by my own war.
The Sierra foothills where I live are home to a diverse and prolific wildlife. Coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, deer, raccoons, skunks, lizards, snakes of all kinds, tarantulas, bats, hawks and dozens of other birds populate my backyard. Even a bear and its cubs occupied for a few days the campus of my kids’ elementary school a few years ago. A vulture missed its landing and flung himself into my daughter’s high school bus, putting our little town on the TV news.
Encounters between humans and animals are so frequent that only tourists ooh and aah when they spot a deer, a coyote or a fox. I’m not that blasé and I still gasp at the view of a fawn and follow with awe the flight of a hawk. And I will never fight against any of them. After all, we share the same territory and boundaries, although fragile, keep all of us safe and happy.
If it hadn’t been for the ground squirrels, life would have remained that way.
But they destroyed a rabbit over one summer. I’m talking of a brand new VW. A colony of ground squirrels built nests in the motor, gnawing and eating the electrical wires. In a month, the car was dead.
This fall, the same vicious strategy would have worked if I hadn’t brought my car for service. The mechanics noticed that some wires had been chewed on. That explained my issues with my lights.
At the same time, each and every of my potted plants was savagely attacked. The flowers and plants weren’t eaten, proof it wasn’t the work of a deer but gathered behind my potting table, pots, and in cozy corners. The spa area was a favorite. Small branches, pieces of bark and leaves had been dragged inside. They would, no doubt, make a comfy nest for the babies to come. Since ground squirrels have no access to birth control, a battle between them and us isn’t fair. They are so many that the damages are important, fast and constant. Their survival and maternal instincts are even fiercer than ours.
My husband, as most male characters, envisioned a short and victorious battle. His tools were simple yet he was sure 100% efficient. The traps he set up were made of squares with a sticky side where the animals would stupidly stick their paws. The ground squirrels are maybe not that intelligent but the last thing they want is to die.
After weeks of plotting strategies that didn’t work, my garden resembled to a cemetery. Poisoning the ground squirrels was the last of our military tactics but by now the enemy had occupied not only the inside of the spa but every nook and cranny of our porch.
It took me me seven years of careful planting to obtain what my kids call my forest. In our stretch of California, we struggle between months of extreme heat and drought and winter frost. And since I am Californian by adoption, I embrace our green choices. Most of my plants are native and drought resistant. It is heart breaking to lose them.
I am a non violent person who opposed the war in Iraq and voted for Obama when he promised he would devote all of his time to end that useless war. But that night, I suppose I felt like him, and despite my promise to share my home with the wildlife, I listened to my warrior husband. He convinced me that ground squirrels are no different than rats. “One way or another,” he said, “the rodents have to go.”
I woke up the following morning, well rested. I realized that the night had been eventless. I peeked through the French windows of my bedroom. They open onto the porch and the spa. I didn’t see the usual bark, leaves and branches dragged to the spa.
Instead, a bouquet of bright yellow flowers had been left at the entrance, five feet away from my bedroom. I knew they came from one of my last untouched pot. We hadn’t won the war yet.
But since flowers symbolize peace, was truce offered?
We have the rest of the winter to see if both sides will honor it.

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