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.




There is nothing like first hand observation to provide a naturalist with new astonishing information. In my last column for another publication I wrote about gophers in the abstract, and two days later Hector made his first appearance. I noted the hole that appeared one morning with some curiosity but I never expected to meet its owner. While standing at the window one morning (I lose amazing amounts of time here watching birds, the river, soaking in the subtlety of the winter scrub, red willows, flying geese, ducks, egrets, and soaring eagles) a small russet brown head popped out of a hole in a cleared area. The rodent perused his immediate surroundings and then disappeared. I have just met my immediate neighbor, a gopher, I thought excitedly, as the name Hector flashed through my mind. I didn’t know then that friend Iren loved the name Hector! Of course, I have no idea whether Hector is a male or female but I trust the part of me that might know…


Hector is a most fascinating neighbor. Soon after I put seed and cracked corn out in the early sometimes pre-dawn hours he appears. Every morning he re -opens the hole he closes at the end of each feeding day (which here ends around noon because by then the birds and Hector have devoured the day’s ration of food). Just why he feels the need to close his door after the food is gone remains a mystery to me, unless he is irritated by the sparrows who sometimes peer down into his abode, no doubt looking for food too! Yesterday I noticed that a couple of birds actually snuggled into the orifice Hector had created – maybe for warmth? I recalled that gophers are very territorial.


This morning I didn’t awaken until after dawn. When I went outdoors to scatter seed there were five new holes in the same area. Hector had obviously opened one door and when he found nothing edible he descended into his cavern of tunnels and created new doors to the surface to scout around for seed! At least that’s my theory.


As soon as I came in around 7:30 AM I went to the window and there was Hector pulling down sunflower seed and cracked corn into his favored tunnel as fast as he could! Today is a bonus day because in addition to bird food I also sprinkle my dove’s food outdoors recycling Lily b’s left overs. Hector has been busy storing goodies all morning!


After the flock of blackbirds arrived things took a turn for the worse because now the ground is picked clean and it’s only 11AM. Hector has already closed down one of his entrances (his favorite), and I am anxious to see what he does with the others. I still try to imagine what it must be like to have a burrow that snakes its way through the earth six feet deep and can extend up to 5000 feet in length. I would like to believe that Hector sleeps under the Trailercita snuggled into his gopher nest somewhere below us.


(We need to be mindful that all gophers do so much good because they keep the desert soil aerated allowing precious moisture to be absorbed)


Clearly, living with a gopher is a source of ongoing amazement to me. I am always wondering what Hector might do next!