A long time ago, I was a “do it yourself” guy. All that changed in roughly December 1991. I remember it well.
I was on a ladder, chest pressed against the front of the house. Over my shoulder was a string of lights. One hand held a hammer, the other tightly gripped the badly dated ladder and below me was my crew chief instructing where to hang the string. An army of partly clad toddlers was running around below me, reciting their Christmas list. The wind was swirling, my mind was racing and eventually it settled on one thought: “This is how I’m going to die.”
My life now bears no resemblance to those early years. For starters, it’s been a long time since I threatened “no Santa this year.” These days I depend on an army of experts — lawn (Jose), fertilizer (Ryan Lawn), lighting (CLC), plumbing (Roto Rooter) and carpet (Stanley Steemer).
A couple years ago Critter Control came to my payroll. We had a skunk in our window and we became fast friends. (The CC guy, I mean.) Recently the CC truck was at a neighbor’s house and I waved him over. I pointed him to a curious pattern of tunnels through the grass with holes. He paused. “Those are called voles. Like field mice but much worse. They reproduce like crazy and can take over an entire yard.”
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I felt a sudden pain in my cerebral cortex. “How do you get rid of them?”
“We come out and first evaluate which pathways are active, and after that we…”
He kept talking for what seemed like 10 minutes. One word circulated in my head. MONEY.
My heard my inner DIY calling. I began with research — Google, naturally. Findings:
▪ “They are baby-making machines.”
▪ “They have a tendency to be eating machines as well.”
▪ “Voles can wreak havoc on lawns and gardens.”
At some point my wife inquired, “Why do you care?”
“You know your garden?” I replied. She nodded enthusiastically. “Let me read you this: ‘They eat tomatoes, beets, carrots, celery, lettuce, artichokes, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, turnips.’”
Right then, her head spun around in rapid succession and I’m pretty sure projectile vomit headed my way. No words were needed. Anyone, anything, that threatens her garden must be, well, “addressed.”
In my research I found a YouTube video. Part Funniest Home Videos, part Toby Tobin, with a grainy quality reminiscent of the original Bigfoot video, this guy gave first-hand instruction on how to connect a garden hose to your car tailpipe and then extend the hose down the vole’s home. The production was worthy of SNL, with a barking dog in the background and an appearance as if it was filmed during an earthquake.
His production spawned many reader comments, like this one: “Sir, you are very articulate, but ignorant of the physiology of moles, voles, and pocket gophers! You have given wrong information in a very eloquent way!”
There were other websites including this one: “How to kill voles and moles with a gun.”
“Learning how to kill voles, moles and gophers with a weapon is largely about getting them come out of the burrow. Naturally this only happens when it’s dark. So one option is to wait until then. The easiest time to shoot the animals is when they just look out of hole scanning the area before leaving the burrow. Usually this should happen in the first hour of complete darkness.”
I kept researching.
I settled on something called a Gopher Gasser from the hardware store. The instructions included these in bold lettering: For outdoor use only. Hazards to humans and domestic animals. Do not use indoors. Work quickly. Do not hold lit fuse in hand.
So of course I worked slowly, held the lit fuse in my hand and inhaled large plumes of the toxins. The Gasser gassed me and nothing else. Other failures — instead of spreading over the lawn, I dumped the pellets directly into the holes. Nothing.
But if you are lover of voles, this might be a good time to switch to reading “Snarky in the Suburbs,’ because eventually my luck changed.
After another couple weeks I went old school, grabbing a hose, turning the water on high and then dumped the equivalent of an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water into the void. Slowly I saw my friends appear. They have now been relocated to vole heaven.
My inner DIY guy is back. Look for me on a ladder in December.
Freelance columnist Matthew Keenan writes twice a month. His book “Call Me Dad, Not Dude, the sequel” is sold at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit his blog at matthewkeenan.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.