Tom Clyde: Winning the battle of the bats
This has a been a strange summer. There have been all the usual summer activities: bike rides, hikes, barbecues, and good times with friends and family. There have been all the usual ranch things, too: beaver dams in canals, equipment breakdowns, cattle making a jailbreak in the middle of the night, trees blowing over and blocking the road to my house. On the surface, it all seems pretty normal. But in the background, there has been a sense of unease all season long.
Most of it is the drought. We’ve been on water restrictions since mid-June this year, and by now, it’s down to some pretty tight rationing. The water rights in Park City aren’t materially different from what I have on the farm. But where I have pastures that are as crunchy as corn flakes, the urban areas of the county have lush green lawns. In a year with paltry water supplies, I haven’t heard anybody from Park City talking about water conservation this year. That doesn’t make any sense. There’s something wrong with a swampy green lawn when it’s this dry.
The drought has the side effect of the West being on fire. It’s been smoky all summer. Some nights it has been so bad that it smelled like the yard was on fire. Most of the time it’s just a thick haze, and irritated eyes and throat. There is usually a layer of ash on the hood of the truck in the morning. With the exception of the Tollgate Canyon fire, they have mostly been distant, disrupting somebody else’s life. The forest surrounding us isn’t healthy. It’s packed with standing dead trees, just waiting for the next lightning strike.
There have been a couple of spectacular lightning storms. They were so good that I’d sit on the deck where I could get a broad view of it. Sometimes it seemed like the sky was lit up for a minute at a time. Of course that’s supposed to be followed by an equally spectacular rain. That hasn’t happened. I don’t think the cumulative total since May has been half an inch at my house. The trails and farm roads are just moon dust. The river is down to a trickle.
It’s not all dark. This week, I celebrated the bounteous harvest from the new raspberry patch. The single berry looked pretty lonely atop a scoop of ice cream. There are buds on some of the other bushes that are a different variety that is supposed to produce berries in the fall. So there might be 5 or 6 more. The peas never took off. Something ate the first planting, and the second planting has some scrubby little bushes. There was one pod that looked like it might be worth eating if it had a couple more days. Apparently a rabbit decided it was ready that night, and beat me to it.
The corn is persevering. It’s getting down to about 40 degrees some nights at my place, and nothing much grows once that happens. I might get a couple more weeks out of the growing season, and I guess could resort to covering things at night. As farmers everywhere say, there’s always next year.
On the plus side, I’m winning in the battle of the bats. It’s a little early to declare unconditional surrender and roll out the “Mission Accomplished” banner, but it’s been several days since there has been a pile of bat poop left on the deck in the morning. The mothballs did it. After a couple of weeks of trying to roost in their traditional spot, the bats decided that the mothballs were too odious even for them. They still fly around under the gable end of the roof every night, vacuuming insects out of the air. But they aren’t messing up the patio furniture every night any more. Of course that raises the question of where they’ve moved to. So far I haven’t seen signs of roosting in the garage.
Mothballs are a cheap and apparently effective way of disposing of all kinds of pests and vermin. I’ve driven skunks out of barns and from underneath the front porch with them. And now I’ve persuaded the bats to move on. I wonder if we should put a ring of mothballs around Congress and the White House? They’re all on vacation — now’s the time to keep them from coming back.
Summer is winding down. There is a field across the street from my house that is writhing with potguts all summer. It’s like an anthill of them. In the last week, the potguts have mostly hibernated. There are a few stragglers still around, but you have to look for them. Summer has gone by so quickly this year. Between the drought and the fire risk, maybe that’s OK.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.