Thursday, August 18, 2011

Collateral Damage, Part 2

You’ve probably guessed it by now: there was not just one Chip, but many Chips.

After this first chipmunk death, the pillaging in the strawberry patch continued unabated. So my husband John set up more traps, one just outside our bedroom window. (Where the chipmunk had climbed behind our siding, mentioned in my previous post.) A couple of days later, I was in the bedroom when I heard a sharp Snap!—then some mewling cries. I couldn’t bear to look. I knew it was another trapped chipmunk, in its death throes. Luckily John was nearby, and he once again had to put the creature out of its misery.

The next day, I was near one of our woodsheds, when there was another Crack!—the sound of a trap. I turned toward the sound, and saw a trapped chipmunk, flipping in agony. It died right before my eyes, before John could do a mercy-killing.

He continued to set traps, and within ten days or so, the body count had reached a dozen. “I’m starting to feel like a killing machine,” he said sadly. I couldn’t blame him. John and I have no objection to hunting, but this war on wildlife was feeling pretty horrible. But because we’re trying to grow as much of our own food as possible, what other choice do we have?

The thing is, John and I are the first to admit that Chip, or the many Chips, had been here first. And they’d only been doing what came naturally: eating the best food available. Here in the woods, we were the real intruders.

Back when we first moved to the Foothills, carving our small clearing out of the woods meant bulldozing. Since the area bird population appeared unscathed, we didn’t understand until how much collateral damage a bulldozer would do until the following spring. After a year of hand-tilling the ground, John and I saw our first earthworm. The dozer, we realized, had not only wiped out the brush, saplings, trees and stumps, but the worms, the toads, the salamanders and snakes. All “good garden friends,” as John would say. (If it took a year for an earthworm to show up on Berryridge farm, it took two before we saw a toad, and months longer before we found any more reptiles or amphibians.) Even the mere presence of our house constituted a wildlife hazard: last summer, we lost two of our resident hummingbirds—they’d crashed into our front windows during one of their dogfights. John holding a dead hummingbird in his palm before going into the woods to bury it, was about the saddest thing either one of us had seen on our place.

Since moving to the Foothills, we’ve cleared additional ground by hand, maybe a quarter acre, but we’d like create some pasture for our hens. But we’ve held off on hiring out the job, since a real pasture would involve more dozing. More death. So for now, to make more grassy plots for the “girls,” we’ll use the combination of grunt work and hen scratching. And to somehow try and give back to nature what we’ve taken.