The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Winter's Blast Felt in NW Arkansas.
Kind Words about Moles and Toads

The Wind in the Willows is a book I cannot give away.
This passage reminded me of why I started a blog about my hometown, Moline.


The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, Chapter Five, Dulce Domum, Excerpts, Public Domain 

We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal's inter-communications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word `smell,' for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning? inciting, repelling. It was one of these mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in fullest flood. 

Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. Since his escape on that bright morning he had hardly given it a thought, so absorbed had he been in his new life, in all its pleasures, its surprises, its fresh and captivating experiences. Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him, in the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day's work. 

[ GJ - But Ratty refused to take a detour! He was too busy.] 

Poor Mole stood alone in the road, his heart torn asunder, and a big sob gathering, gathering, somewhere low down inside him, to leap up to the surface presently, he knew, in passionate escape. But even under such a test as this his loyalty to his friend stood firm. Never for a moment did he dream of abandoning him. Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. He dared not tarry longer within their magic circle. With a wrench that tore his very heartstrings he set his face down the road and followed submissively in the track of the Rat, while faint, thin little smells, still dogging his retreating nose, reproached him for his new friendship and his callous forgetfulness. 

The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control himself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so long refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, and then another, and another, and others thick and fast; till poor Mole at last gave up the struggle, and cried freely and helplessly and openly, now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could hardly be said to have found. 

The Rat, astonished and dismayed at the violence of Mole's paroxysm of grief, did not dare to speak for a while. At last he said, very quietly and sympathetically, `What is it, old fellow? Whatever can be the matter? Tell us your trouble, and let me see what I can do.' 

Poor Mole found it difficult to get any words out between the upheavals of his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and held back speech and choked it as it came. `I know it's a -- shabby, dingy little place,' he sobbed forth at last, brokenly: `not like -- your cosy quarters -- or Toad's beautiful hall -- or Badger's great house -- but it was my own little home -- and I was fond of it -- and I went away and forgot all about it -- and then I smelt it suddenly -- on the road, when I called and you wouldn't listen, Rat -- and everything came back to me with a rush -- and I wanted it! -- O dear, O dear! -- and when you wouldn't turn back, Ratty -- and I had to leave it, though I was smelling it all the time -- I thought my heart would break. -- We might have just gone and had one look at it, Ratty -- only one look -- it was close by -- but you wouldn't turn back, Ratty, you wouldn't turn back! O dear, O dear!' 

Recollection brought fresh waves of sorrow, and sobs again took full charge of him, preventing further speech. 

The Rat stared straight in front of him, saying nothing, only patting Mole gently on the shoulder. After a time he muttered gloomily, `I see it all now! What a pig I have been! A pig -- that's me! Just a pig -- a plain pig!' 

Read this brilliant analysis of the author's life and his classic work.

***

GJ - The Wind in the Willows became part of our father/son vocabulary, especially when LI and his grandfather tipped their rowboat into the river. "Please, Ratty. I want to row - now!"

The animal characters are everlasting - in the book. The Disney version is a sad corruption, turning classic literature into a dumb cartoon.

Moles are rampant in our yards here. I have talked it over with Mr. Gardener many times. He has lived here decades and never saw anything like last year's run of moles. I have not tried to kill them or drive them away or trap them.

I sought comfort and wisdom in A Blessing of Toads, by Sharon Lovejoy, which is on its way to Norma Boeckler's home and gardens. Lovejoy has something good to say about every creature in the garden.

Lovejoy gave the mole a chapter. I doubt her remedies for keeping them away, but not her advice about their benefits. Moles feast on insects, slugs, and grubs in the soil. The disruptive tunnels, near the surface, are their feeding runs, which are often temporary. The permanent tunnels are another foot below, and their construction results in the famous molehills of soft earth piled on top. So moles get rid of pests but they also mix, aerate, and soften the soil. They are giant earthmovers in comparison with earthworms. Lovejoy - "On the Matter of Moles," A Blessing of Toads.

Wayne Lewis wrote about those who hate on the larger animals, squirrels, mice, groundhogs, rabbits, chipmunks, voles, moles, prairie dogs, gophers, snakes, lizards— all burrow and travel in the soil, mixing, moving, and depositing organic matter and providing pathways and reservoirs for water and air...

The role these larger animals play in a vegetable garden is very different from the role they play in other parts of the yard. But wherever they roam, their role is important and entirely underpinned by microarthropods and microorganisms, which far outnumber them in any soil food web. The dung of all reptiles, mammals, and birds serves as a food source for other members of the food web community, which recycles it into nutrients. They also carry microbes on and in their bodies and feet from one location to another, and at death their carcasses are decayed by soil life.

Lewis, Wayne;   Lowenfels, Jeff;  (2010-09-10). Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition (Kindle Location 1503). Timber Press. Kindle Edition. 

Lovejoy did not admit to moles eating earthworms (a death penalty in ancient Egypt) but the soil food web concept means providing for the tiniest soil creatures so the larger ones can feed on them and recycle them. Earthworms simply multiply according to the moisture and organic matter given them, and they make good soil even better while supporting any creature that needs their high protein bodies, whether birds or moles or snakes.


You are probably wondering - why the strange title? Lovejoy played on the unusual names for groups of animals: a pride of lions, a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, an exaltation of larks, a charm of finches. She reject the official  "knot of toads," and offers hers - "a blessing of toads."

I covet toads and want more of them in my garden, so I am on the lookout for broken flower vases to serve as their shelters and homes. Toads are the number 1 enemy of slugs. Note that moles are eating them below ground while toads snag them above ground. Toads also eat enormous amounts of insect pests and feast on ants. Lovejoy, "A Blessing of Toads," A Blessing of Toads.

Compost - build it and they will come - up from the soil.
My Midland compost fed birds on top as they perched and waited for movement.
The wily blue jays loved to feast there.
Any deep pile of organic matter will compost, including leaves alone,
but most of us do some mixing of soil, leaves, and garden trash, plus weeds.