It was a cool, cloudy day in the late afternoon of Tuesday, November 18th. The sky was dark blue-gray and there was a light, hollow breeze from the south. The grape leaves, painted in fall reds, oranges and yellows, were rusting and letting go of their vine hosts.
I was in the east field dressed in grey cargo pants with dirt-covered knees and worn-in calf-high boots. With shovel in hand I was somberly digging up the last of the squash plants – sad to see summer go. The day before they had frozen in the first sub-32 degree night we had had this fall. Their leaves were limp and translucent from the freeze and then thaw during the day. This exposed their alien-like vines underneath that had grown and twisted their way all through the bed and out into the walking paths over the summer.
Shovel in, stomp of my boot on the blade’s top, lift, yank and drag the plant to a mounding pile of other squash plants.
All of the sudden a rustle under the dead leaves revealed a mouse. It shot straight out from the squash bed and into the mound of pulled plants. I pretended I didn’t see anything and kept working.
Two squash excavations later, I heard a sudden scamper under the weeds moving away from me toward the end of the squash bed. Then silence.
“Tony, a mouse, a mouse,” I yelled to my co-worker seeding a nearby bed with mustard. He dropped his bag of seeds and came running over.
“There, there,” I said pointing to the end of the bed, “under those weeds.”
He immediately started moving around frenetically pulling the weeds and leaves around him. It quickly revealed a mouse with short brown-grey hair fattened on summer radishes and carrots.
Bam…bam…bam! With no other weapon but gloved hands, Tony began punching the ground with both fists. Weeds and leaves were tossed into the air along with the lifeless body. He paused to see if it was dead. Observing from a few, safe paces away, I saw it laying on its side motionless.
Then another rustling in the weeds in the next bed. Tony leapt over and began the routine again – pulling weeds and squash plants to expose the ground. Something jumped and Tony raised his fist again, but when his eyes focus he stops just in time before he would have wailed on a fat, green toad. He picked it up and tossed it into the next bed.
Just then, a scurry. Tony yanked my shovel from my hands. “There, there, under that overgrown radish,” I yelled. Whack…whack…whack! The shovel obliterated the radish plant and the mouse beneath. Little red mouse guts hang from its underside.
“Ahhh, I see two more running toward the other end of the bed!” I yelled. This time Tony started digging into the side of the bed and what seems like a Ratatouille-amount of mice come running out in all directions. Whack…bam…whack…whack! Tony became the terminator of mice following their scurrying this way and that as I kept yelling directions at him.
All in all, six mice lost their lives that fateful afternoon.
I scooped each one up individually with the shovel and placed them gently into the wheelbarrow. I apologized to them and then walked slowly to the compost pile. I felt bad for having to kill those little guys, and so violently too, but in the garden mice, voles, gophers and birds are the enemy. They dig holes under beds, and eat everything in sight – radishes, berries, carrots, turnips and micro greens all succumb to their big appetites.
I dug a shallow hole behind the wet, pre-chipped compost pile to ensure they wouldn’t accidentally get chipped themselves. I found two sticks and tied it together with a fresh, long weed. Sorry, little guys.
Walking back to the bed with the wheelbarrow, I suddenly remembered the first mouse that scurried under the pile of pulled squash plants. The lone survivor…the one in the horror movie that the serial killer lets live so the tale can be told…The Massacre at Squash Field.
What’s best with horror movies? Caramel popcorn, of course!