When I first moved to Vashon Island in Puget Sound outside of Seattle, WA, I was a hippie. (Yes, that was a while ago. A good while ago.) I wanted to join the “back to the land” movement. I was lucky enough to find a rundown little house and two acres of land right on the beach. Just right for sustainable living, gardening, and all the other fads and movements of the times.
My first task that Spring was the garden. I planned to grow most of my own food. Entranced by the glossy seed catalogs arriving in the daily mail, I had visions of a huge, lush garden . So I put a notice on the community bulletin board at the grocery store seeking someone to plow my garden. (All I had was a hoe—and an abundance of ambition.) It wasn’t long before I heard a knock at the door. I opened it to see a rather grizzled old guy.
“Hello, can I help you?” I asked him.
“You want a garden plowed?” he said. “Yes, I do,” I answered.
Looking behind him to the road, I saw a tractor that looked as old and grizzled as him.
“I’m ready, where didja want it?” he asked.
I took him to the back yard and pointed out an area that looked likely to me.
“I’ll get my plow.” He returned in a few minutes with his old tractor and plow and started to turn the black earth. It didn’t take long until I had a nice, big garden plot.
“Looks like ya got some good dirt here,” he told me, running a handful through his fingers. His love of the land was apparent in his reverent handling of the soil. “That’ll be $10, and if ya need more plowin’, just put your note back up at the store. I don’t got a phone.” I assured him I would.
“Oh, what’s your name?” I asked as he left.
“Backwoods Bob is what I’m called,” he said. Everyone that lived in this rural enclave seemed to have names indicative of some trait or talent, like Joe the Potter, Sharkey Bill the lawyer, etc.
I went back to admire my soon to-be-lush garden. Then I made a trip to the hardware store on the island where they sold bulk garden seed. I figured I needed more than would come in those little bitty packets from the mail-order catalogs. I needed to get a rake and a few other tools, too.
When I returned home, I sat down to study my garden plan. Now, I had been a gardener in Missouri ever since I could walk. I figured gardening would be a piece of cake in a place like Vashon: everything was so fresh and green. I was excited to get this done, so I called a few of my like-minded hippie friends to come help. Soon I had four or five willing friends with tools here. We dug and raked and generally had a pretty good time.
“Let’s put the corn over here,” School Bus Mike hollered.
“I’m planting the lettuce here, next to the carrots,” Rachel the Yoga Queen said. I was busy with radishes and onion sets. It didn’t take long before we had most of the garden planted. I thanked everyone with a lasagna dinner. Hippies will do most anything for a good meal.
I managed to wait a week before going out to look at my garden. Nothing yet—I needed to be more patient. I waited another week and consoled myself with a trip to the Pike Place Market for tomato plants. I ran into School Bus Mike at the market. “Hey, anything up yet?” he asked.
“Not yet,” I replied. “Maybe I should check on it when I get home with these tomato plants.”
When I got home, I carefully arranged my tomato plants on tables on the sun porch and headed out to check the garden. There, peeping out of the soil, were baby radish, lettuce, and corn sprouts! I was so excited. I knew the rest would be along shortly, and the growing would begin in earnest.
Soon the lettuce, radishes, and corn were two or three inches tall. They looked so pretty and promising rising out of the black soil. I felt rather proud of myself.
The next day, I decided to start putting in the tomato plants. I grabbed my trusty hoe and a box of plants and headed out to my garden. There, instead of my thriving lettuce, radishes, and corn starts, were neat rows of stubs. It looked like a lawnmower had run over my garden! What on earth? Who could have done such a thing? I raced in to call my friends.
“Mike, can you come over?” I cried breathlessly. “Now. It’s an emergency!”
“Be right there,” he said. “Do I need to bring anything?”
“No, but we might need the police.”
“What happened?” he asked.
“I’ll have to show you, so hurry.”
A few minutes later he arrived with Rachel the Yoga Queen and a couple more of my original helpers. (Hippies tend to run in groups). I told them, “Someone has vandalized my garden! It’s totally ruined. Someone mowed it down!”
“No!” they all exclaimed. “Did ya hear anything? See anyone hanging around?”
I led them back to view the damage. Everyone walked into the rows, staring at the ground and the sheared-off rows of veggies. Suddenly, Mike started laughing. Then Rachel laughed. Mike held his hand out to the others, and they all started laughing.
“What?” I cried. “How can you laugh? This is a disaster!” Mike walked over to me and showed me what was in his hand. It was the ugliest, most disgusting creature I had ever seen. “What is that?” I said. “It looks like a big snail that lost its shell.”
“I’d like to introduce you to the banana slug,” Mike replied, grinning. “The biggest garden pest in the Pacific Northwest.”
“Ewww, that’s gross,” I said. I stared at the huge four-inch-long, spotted, slimy thing. “What’s that got to do with my vandalized garden?”
“Last night, an army of these critters must have eaten their way through your garden,” he explained. “They can eat a load of fresh sprouts nightly. You need some slug bait to keep them out.”
Mike taught me how to use slug bait, the whole crew helped me replant, and, later that Summer, the garden did turn out great. But you can bet one thing: they never let me forget that one. (Hip-pies may act a bit spacey, but they have very long memories.)
So why do you think that, many years later, I moved back to Missouri? I told everyone I had family reasons, and, indeed, I did. But at least part of the reason was to get away from banana slugs—and the endless teasing of old but “we-never-forget” hippies! ❖