Thursday January 3, 2019
It is like a bomb has gone off. Large craters stand where rows of once plentiful tomatoes existed. I run through the field and large mounds of dirt are piled everywhere. I look left and I look right, the telltale signs of eaten roots show with wilted plants lining the trenches. Half eaten ripe tomatoes splayed across the path like my now flowing tears hitting the dirt. “No!” I scream. How could this happen? I only left for a few days and now all my hard work is ruined. What am I going to tell the customers waiting for their deliveries? Out of the corner of my eye I spot one of the culprits and make a mad dash at that stupid laughing overstuffed face as he retreats into the ground. I claw furiously into the freshly dug gopher dirt with fresh blood thirst that only rodent death will quench. It is still with that dirt covered sweat and primal hatred I awake in the comfort of my own bed. I have had my first farm nightmare.
When I worked in the service industry and later owned my own restaurant, work nightmares came with the territory. Ask any server or bartender and they will share the same common dream that all of us suffered. The restaurant is understaffed, the kitchen is a million miles away and people keep coming in filling up tables. It took years for me to “wake up” in my dreams, realize that this was just a nightmare and that I just needed to walk out of this restaurant that did not exist. I’m sure people in any job have work related nightmares of their own but this was not supposed to happen to me doing what I loved.
After a few years I think I have it finally figured out. It’s not the job but the product that causes these nightmares.Farming on such a small-scale means I touch every aspect of the work. I can almost tell you the variety of the tomato plant in each row because of the time I spend tending to them. The first sign that the plants have taken, a lovely greening of the plants, as if a shot of forest green paint has been injected, excites me. The flowers begin to grace the façade as if tiny yellow lanterns were recently hung for a party that is about to start. Oh, and then the tiny green fruit show up one day unexpectedly driving waves of excitement through my veins! The next part is like a ritual dance or a blueprint that is engrained in my memory year to year; tying up the plants for support, a gentle haircut to keep them from touching the ground, and a light meal of fertilizer to make sure they are big and strong to support these babies that are about to grow into adulthood. And then it happens. That light blush of red or pink or even yellow shows it face on that now gorgeous green globe that begins to color. I wait, I stop myself from jumping too soon, and I wait. Summer’s greatest symphony is about to come rushing in and picking too early is like listening with muffled ears. The first ripe fruit is prized, sliced very carefully on a wooden cutting board and the entire household is summoned to receive its full glory. And that, my friends,is the idiot simple pleasure that drives me and one that I protect so fiercely from those jerks of nature that are trying to take that away from me.
You know who you are jerks. Gophers are not happy living naturally in the pasture, eating their regular diet out there. I know they have meetings in their underground bunkers planning their assault. They send out scouts, test the battle lines, and look for the weak link in the fence to start their pillage. Don’t they realize nature did not intend for them to eat tomato plants? And that is my justification for encouraging them go elsewhere, heaven maybe, hell preferably.
I’m not sure they are friends with the ground squirrels whose sole purpose, I believe, is to tease me and drive up my blood pressure. They just take one bite of that just ripened fruit and leave it as their calling card to drive me into a rage. A similar air assault occurs with punctures of ripe fruit with those creepy winged friends that people love so much to watch with their binoculars. I can’t stand them and only recently fell in love with chickens and ducks. At least they are civilized.
I think I am suffering from some type of PTSD from too many morning of waking up to disaster after months of careful nurturing. Call it Predator Tomato Strike Disaster or something like that. I never hated nature until I started farming. Ironic really, since working with the earth is supposed to bring one closer to it. I’m getting better at the “discouraging” part to keep these predators away but I do wonder “Has nature created a killer out of me?
I should not be excited to run out in the morning to see if my traps have worked. I should not celebrate when they do and dance around like I won the lottery at my good fortune. The sight of a dead animal should not make me smile…but it does and I feel like I am winning the battle for my team, the farm team. Look, I’m not smearing blood on my face…yet. I know I’m supposed to live with nature, find that balance but what do you do if nature just tries to break you down every chance it gets? So I fight, do my best to make sure there is no other option and fight the war. Some days they win the battle and some days I do, sort of like that balance that nature people talk about right? Look I’ve tried to wipe those predators off the face of the earth believe me but the reality is nature has an inexhaustible supply of gophers and ground squirrels in my hood. In my head, it’s just like the elimination of American Lion predator that used to control the deer population in North America.I have become that lion, just for squirrels and gophers. Mother Nature just keeps pumping these jerks out so I am ok with what I have to do. Let’s just hope when my time comes St. Peter at the Pearly Gates feels the same way.