All summer I nurtured a small but vibrant hummingbird garden on the east side of the house, watering, pruning, loving… and two days ago a gopher moved in. I met him at 7 AM yesterday morning as he stuck his little head out of one of the holes he dug to the surface. Such a bright – eyed little creature! Gophers have miles of underground tunnels and this year many people are exclaiming over gopher mounds that are appearing in such massive numbers that I am frankly dumfounded and wondering what this behavior might be suggesting. Does this extensive tunneling have something to do with the drought? Many of gopher’s natural foods were decimated last summer, so perhaps gophers are compensating by creating even longer tunnels to reach any available food source?
All winter the gophers feast on tasty roots below the surface of the desert, and in the process they may kill plants but they also aerate the hard packed ground, creating places for wild seeds to take root, so I am accepting of the loss of my garden, although it saddens me that I put so much effort into creating a small oasis that fed such a multitude of bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.
It’s too late in the season to do anything with the perennials, but yesterday I dug up most of my cactus and re – potted them; all but one my friend Iren and I dug in the wild, and I am attached to each.
When I look at all the gopher mounds in what used to be my garden I can’t help wondering what this process of uprooting might mean for me on a personal level. It is my experience that Nature’s processes mirror my own in uncanny ways, perhaps because I have such an intimate relationship with creatures and plants in the wild.
One answer to this question comes in what I have learned about living in the desert for most of two years. This harsh environment spares no one. The fiery wall of summer heat is so intense that being exposed to this furnace over the course of even one season made me physically ill. There is a west wind that is also a killer – merciless – whipping parched ground into frenzied whirlwinds that make it impossible to walk, let alone see. Utter chaos. The drought withers even the hardiest plants. There is a dark side to living here that took me totally by surprise, because the high desert is also an astonishingly beautiful place with it’s amazing outcroppings of rock and chiseled canyons. The most precious have a water source that runs through them, and it is to these that I am drawn back to again and again.
I am learning that even having a small garden in the desert doesn’t work very well, and that it’s best to let Nature have her way. I did build a small rock garden to plant spring bulbs and lined it with hardware cloth (to deter hungry gophers), so hopefully I will have spring flowers to look forward to; I love them so. Perhaps one day I will build another raised garden for the hummingbirds if I continue stay here for the winter months. Even my present living conditions are too unstable to make that decision.
At this point I am living between two worlds – one in the north, the other to the south. I can’t take care of myself in Maine because there is too much snow to shovel, and here my poor body cannot handle the heat. Worst of all I have no money, so in two years I have come full circle with no solution in sight, except that promise I make to my body, not to subject her to further abuse. My dreams tell me that for now I must continue “to drive in the dark,” that a beloved tree is being uprooted, that the way through is unknown.
It does seem to me that gopher’s presence reflects the reality that I seem to have no year round roots that I can put down anywhere.