Saturday, June 12, 2021

Of prairie dogs and other pests

Daily Inter Lake | May 30, 2021 12:00 AM

Spring's wonky weather pattern tricked me into unwisely and prematurely buying hanging baskets and potting flowers, but wisely prevented me from buying tomato plants. As has been said, when to buy your tomato plants in the Flathead Valley depends on how many times you want to replace them.

I've been locked into all my weather apps and websites, following the nightly frost probability and bringing in my hanging plants and unplanted flowers accordingly, then putting them out mid-morning for some sunshine and acclimation — kind of like dogs, only I don't have to pick up in the yard after them, just sweep the floor of dropped petals.

And they do tend to harbor bugs roosting cozily amid the blossoms. I found a bee in my mudroom and some bomber-sized flies buzzing around my loft and kitchen windows. One made a line toward me as I was passing through a doorway, but I faked a fast left and dodged the hit.

I'm not sentimental about dispatching uninvited guests, though I think I may have softened over the years. Now I somewhat regret the imminent doom of my human intervention. For one, I'm way bigger than they are. It's hardly a fair fight. And for another, their lives, no matter how short-lived, do have worth.

But I'm still ridding my household of their presence — in other words, killing them. I do catch bees and moths under a jar and safely release them outside. But fly swatters, rolled up newspapers and magazines, torn corners of paper towels are my weapons of choice, and all take their toll.

I have a friend who literally wouldn't even hurt a fly. She kills nothing. And she's a vegetarian. She will remove dead birds from the roadway and place them gently in the grass in the shade. She is genuinely compassionate about all beings.

There is a time every summer when the prairie dog population seems to explode — or at least they become highly compelled to perform daring road crossings. A few years ago, I was gaining momentum on a downhill on my bike commute to work when one of them darted out into the road right in front of me.

I told my bug-and-bird-loving friend, who is also a cyclist, about the experience. She asked me if I turned around and went back to see how the prairie dog was doing, or if I moved its body to the side of a road.

"Um, no," I replied. "I only had enough time to squeal as I felt my tires roll over its soft body."

While there is much to admire about her compassion, the idea of me returning to the scene of the collision struck me as ironic. After all, that prairie dog could have caused me great harm had I swerved to avoid him instead of instinctively holding my line. That could have resulted in a serious injury of my own.

Without a doubt, he was the one at fault. He took his chances. He's lucky I didn't call the cops on him.

Community editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or