Of Moles and Windmills
Peter J. Van Bruggen, Portland Oregon
"Mister, them mills is mole chasers." There was a twinkle in the old man's eye while he was thus abusing the king's English. His ruddy face was gleaming with intense pride, for I had just remarked about the neat appearance of his garden. His hands were thrust into the pockets of his old, blue jeans which were thoroughly patched but immaculately clean. His attitude was that of someone who is on the defensive, and I was soon to find out why.
The occasion was a bright spring day in 1940. 1 had stopped my car on the side of Highway Number 99 to admire the panorama that was unfolding there. To the West, across the blue waters of Puget Sound, Mount Olympus reared a peak glistening with snow above a forest of dark green firs. To the east was Mount Ranier, also snow covered, looming majestically, and it certainly was a draw as to which was more imposing.
My immediate attention, however, was attracted to something more close at hand. Between my car and the distant waters of the Sound there was a beautiful, well kept lawn with a small shop building at the far end. The lawn all around was ringed with colorful objects, all made of wood and brightly painted. There were Marigolds and Shasta Daisies, twelve inches in diameter, and as I was watching I could swear they were nodding their heads at me. Then when a little breeze came up, the flowers began to revolve. Right in the middle of the lawn a large, white goose was leading a string of goslings, all made of plywood. A small elf was pushing a tiny wheel barrow as if he were bent on his usual mischief. But what caught my eye especially was a row of small windmills, gaudily painted. My Dutch blood began to assert itself, and as I advanced for a little closer inspection they very obligingly began to turn their wings in the breeze. With this motion there came a sound, small but distinct: "Klippety, klop, klippety, klop."
By now the old man had come out of his little shop and bade me a cheery good morning. A visit with him disclosed an experience similar to that of many millions of people at that time. It spoke of depression, idleness, no work for man or beast and of the necessity of keeping soul and body together. Hence the little shop, the garden furniture plus a rugged individual who just wasn't going to starve to death. I questioned him about the windmills and he told me that they were more than garden ornaments. They were mole chasers. By this time I had a twinkle in my eye, too, and I stuck out my old Dutch neck. For I asked him, somewhat facetiously, whether he thought the moles in their burrows could see the bright wings of the little mills as they were swinging through the air. "For goodness sake, didn't he know that moles are blind?" In answer he showed me the little clapper, fastened with a slim screw to the back of one of the wings. Then, suddenly, from Puget Sound there came a brisk wind. As one man, all the little mills at once turned their faces to this new direction and began to spin like mad. The sound of the little clappers changed to a drumming, whirring noise. Now I received surprise number two, because 1 found this old timer in spite of his poor grammar well versed on the subject of rodents. "Mister," he said, the mole sees with his nose." This was the sum and substance of the lecture to which I now listened with great interest.
For you see, I was at that time the world's most discouraged, defeated super duper disgruntled, enraged gardener because of what the moles were doing to me and my precious garden. The year before I had purchased an old residence in Portland, Oregon and had fallen heir to a thirty year old garden which was infested with moles. Yes, sir, the moles had squatters rights. I had tried all sorts of remedies, but they had all failed. The moles relished the poisons and seemed to thrive on them. A bath by way of flooding with the garden hose was a delight for the mole family. The traps endangered the pets of the neighbors. Just the week before I had come home to find a dozen molehills in the new lawn and some R. racemosum seedlings were found perching on top of several mole hills. They were crying out for water for their roots were drying out. The whole scene was one of desolation and despair. How would you feel? I know, it shouldn't happen to a dog.
So I had a reason for listening closely when the old timer expounded his theory of the vibration in the ground, and told me about all his friends who had found it successful. I bought one of the little mills. took it home and then in my own little shop made several more. All one needs is a pointed broomstick driven in the ground with the mill fastened on top using an eight penny box nail. The wings and the tail can be pieces of wood shingles or light metal. A bearing is provided by a piece of old copper tubing set in the head thru which another eight penny box nail fastens it to the carriage which is a piece of wood one by two inches.
The mills were successful at once, klippety klopping in every bit of breeze available. For the next few months the molehills grew less by the week, then completely disappeared. During the year following a mole would sometime come thru the old burrows and we would find one molehill, no more. Then he would depart and go to my neighbors, and, generous old cuss that I am, I did not protest. Gradually, however, the neighbors also began to reap the results from my windmills and now there are no moles in this entire city block. For ten years I have had a standing offer to my friends to pay one dollar for every mole hill they can find in my garden. Nothing has been paid on this deal to date, but I have suffered considerable kidding from my friends. They are skeptical, just as I was when I met the old man, and sometimes, I think, they doubt my sanity. You see, my remedy is so unscientific, and it costs so little. Furthermore, I have no moles, and they seem to think that this is too good to be true. Or am I being facetious again?