My wife and I have nine children living at our rural Oregon homestead. For us, teaching the ways of nature to the next generation is just as important as raising produce—small wonder we call the place Little Sprouts Farm. Every day seems a new adventure in…well…something! A perfect example is the Rodent Rodeo we witnessed one May day in our garden.
Hunter, Kaelyn, Levi, Everett, Oliver, and little Theodore were working and chattering away when suddenly I heard Levi, the nine-year-old, cry, “Whoa! What was that!?”
I looked up and out of the corner of my eye saw something small and dark move quickly—very quickly. Then it vanished under the large rhubarb leaves, and there was nothing but silence. Six children, aged four to twelve, were frozen in place, watching for any movement anywhere.
Also watching were…six guinea fowl! Yes, our garden has resident guineas to help control pest bugs. Guineas love bugs but hate vegetables, a perfect combination for a garden guardian. But this day their eyes were on a prize much bigger than a cucumber beetle!
As the children watched, the guinea fowl started their special “come look at this” call. They cautiously marched forward through the rhubarb leaves, alert as Marines on an enemy beach. Their heads scrolled back and forth like radar.
Another movement—the mystery creature critter finally spooked and darted between rows. Two guineas saw it and darted to a closer position. Alarm calls rang out from bird to bird, and within seconds the entire flock had circled the spot. Again, all were still and silent—children as well as birds.
Then I saw it, a tiny vole, anxiously sniffing the air for a way out of this mess. The Rodent Rodeo was on! One vole against six guinea fowl—the odds were against the little fellow. Still, I was rooting for the guineas. Voles often ruin my irrigation lines. I called the children to where I was so we all had a front-row seat. The garden work could wait. We had a real-life nature show to watch.
Working in unison, the guineas circled the vole. He sat still as a rock, contemplating his next move. Not even his little nose twitched. It looked like there was no way out. The guineas had evenly spaced themselves around the circle and were slowly closing in. What was the tiny vole to do?
He did what instinct says to do: RUN! With a single mighty leap, he rose several feet into the air and hurdled right between two guineas. The two birds lurched forward to grab him in their beaks—but missed! He got by and hit the ground running!
The six guineas started a hot pursuit in an explosion of feathers, legs, and squawking. Here! No, there! No, over there! The garden was filled with cackles and chaos.
But none of the birds could nab the little vole. Somehow he’d evaded them all. The guineas stopped, looked all around, and fell back into silent search mode. But there was nothing—no movement, no sound. Had he truly escaped?
Yes, he had! I finally glimpsed the triumphant critter racing under the garden fence to safety. The guineas were left wander-ing through the plot until they finally lost interest and went back to bug hunting.
I gathered our excited children around.
“Wow, did you see that, Dad?” Hunter exclaimed. Hunter had raised the guineas, so he was rooting for them to win. “The vole got away! He leaped right through the birds!”
“He sure did,” I replied. “That was quite something! But let me ask you: In that moment when they had him circled and it seemed impossible to escape, do you think he panicked?”
“Yeah, I suppose he did,” Kaelyn answered thoughtfully. “That’s why he leaped so high to get away.”
“And what if he hadn’t? What if he had just sat there scared and still?”
“He would be bird food by now!” Levi offered with a grin.
“Perhaps there is a lesson in here for us, for those times when we feel like things are impossible, like there is no way out. Sometimes the best thing to do is something…anything.”
“Like the saying, never give up?”
“Exactly. Never give up.”
So, yes, that vole taught my family a lesson that day: Never give up. I’m going to take it to heart, too. I’m going to keep trying to catch him. After all, I am a gardener. And gardeners never give up, either. ❖
This article was published originally in 2018, in GreenPrints Issue #113.