Saturday, 27 September 2008

Making a mountain out of a mole hill

For the green-fingered brigade among us, autumn is the season when it's time to get our hands well and truly dirty as the great garden clean up begins - if that's not something of a contradiction in terms.

Pruning, uprooting, thinning, replanting, and as the leaves are just about to tumble, the boy-toy joy of leaf-blowing will come into its droning own any weekend now, and of course there's the last mow of the grass before Jack Frost nips in.

In general gardening is supposed to be a rather genteel pastime. All right some heavy lugging is at times required and there's that obstinate flora that still lives by the old aphorism "there's no such thing as a 'weed' just a plant in the wrong place." But nothing really to get the temper-thermometer bubbling to maximum apart that is (in my case) from the Mole.

Now I'm not a violent person. My friends and family will attest to that. I marched in peace demos during my idealistic youth, there's no gun in my home (it's not exactly the fashion here in France unless you're heavily into hunting - I'm not) and I try to avoid physical conflict at all costs. The pen is mightier than the sword and all that.

I'm also as environmentally conscious as is possible to be - within limits. And I love animals - even the boars who come a gruntin' at the gate during the night, scaring me witless and making me rush daringly out with the dustbin twice a week for the overnight collection, half afraid of meeting them face to snout.

May all "sentient beings of the world be blessed to live happy and contented lives" could almost be a family motto.

But sometimes all good and honourable intentions go flying out the window as exasperation threatens to speed up the process of hair loss almost as quickly as advancing years are doing.

And the culprit for those of you who missed it first time around is the Mole - intentionally capitalised.

He's most definitely not that loveable and good-natured creature who graced the pages (with others) of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows from my childhood reading.

Instead he just has to be a conniving, forward-thinking, all-round bounder, hell bent on turning the garden into an Alpine landscape.

Oh - perhaps I ought to say here that I'm clearly being very sexist in anthropomorphising the Mole as a "he." Obviously I haven't had a close up look - in fact I've yet to see the blighter in the flesh. But in Grahame's novel "Mole" is most definitely a "he", even if in French interestingly enough the noun is female "la taupe."

But I digress.

The Hills are alive

I know there's a Mole about of course because a couple of days ago "the Hill" appeared.

An innocent little beginning at face value, but the start of my travails in reality.

When that Hill first formed, I asked neighbours what to do about it - prevention being a little late and a cure now required before the problem mountained out of control. And the reply always seemed to be the same (in French) "set up some traps and kill the little critters." But that doesn't really fit into the way things should be done as far as I'm concerned.

"Poison 'em," recommended another equally unhelpful and non-too tender minded person.

I couldn't. I mean apart from the fact that my dogs would probably end up scoffing any bait I laid, it's unethical. No chemicals on my grass, not for fertilizing purposes nor even to drive a “pest” away.

So the solution a couple of Hills later - a few centimes “well spent” at the recommendation of an assistant at the local garden centre, who most clearly read the words “Le Sucker” emblazoned on my forehead when I innocently asked whether there were any “humane” ways of getting rid of "Bert."

Yep, having decided that the Mole had to be male, I had also made the mistake of naming him too. Don't even ask why.

“This is just what you’re looking for sir,” he said pointing to a rather innocuous green plastic toadstool-like thing.

"The new 'virbrasonic' mole deterrent – complete with a sonar signal guaranteed to drive them away.

“You simply stake them into the ground where you spot a fresh molehill, and within a couple of weeks they will be gone.”

He then proceeded to give me all the scientific explanations as to how I would be rid of my problem (Bert) with no pain to the animal.

I was sold. All right so I would just be moving Bert to someone else’s garden, which wasn’t very socially responsible of me I know, but he and friends (I refused to believe there was only one) were severely testing just how neighbourly I was feeling (the Hills were alive), and I would quite happily have them move on to pastures new (the Moles not the neighbours).

So complete with rechargeable batteries(eco-friendly) and planted firmly at strategic positions - (in the centre of the newest Hills) hopes were high.

The high pitched intermittent wailing that both 'toadstools" emitted became all the more noticeable in the still of the night when the bedroom windows were flung open. It was certainly unpleasant enough to give me a pretty restless sleep.

Still at least I had the consolation that the sound must seem equally disturbing to "les taupes" (they're French after all, so let's call them by name), and it was with that expectation that I looked out the next morning to see.....

.....the Hills had spread and multiplied - again

Welcome to Mole paradise

The sonar deterrent seemed to have had no effect on Bert et al, well not the desired one at least. In fact rather the opposite as they appeared to have spent the night busy tunneling and constructing to their hearts' content.

And (as you can tell from the photo) the alarms, far from discouraging them seemed to be rather Attractive.

I've since read up on Moles and discovered to my horror, they don't actually hibernate as I had thought. They just dig deeper for food as the cold sets in.

That in itself might mean fewer mounds appearing over the next few months, but of course the problem will still be there - underground, waiting, lurking and threatening to turn a rather wild and natural looking garden into (in their minds only) a beautifully bumpy topography.

In fact should they not decide to move house and garden and if France as planned, or more specifically la région parisienne (nowadays known as Île-de-France), were to bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics - I know just the spot where the moguls competition could be held.

Suddenly those smoke bombs, poisons and traps are beginning to look like an ugly attractive option.

My only hope for salvation is a few months of torrential downpour as that would flood the burrows and drown Bert.

Somehow though that doesn't exactly make me feel any happier.

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