Alan & Donna, from their experiences in the semi-rural suburbs of Minneapolis, know the destructive and disruptive potential of white tail deer and Canada geese. I come to the farm with rather less prejudice for these species, but I take their concerns seriously. Giant rats and flying pigs. The prior owners' attempt to enlarge the orchard just provided food for the deer to browse upon, and a row of larger ornamental maples along the lane show a lot of damage from "buck rubs" – the males rub their heads against the trunk so violently that the bark comes off and the tree can be girdled and killed. A part of the antlering process, I suppose.
A pair of geese (or several, but we only see two at a time) have persistently tried to make a home on the pond, but A&D are quick to discourage them, and serious enough to employ weapons. We've a powerful slingshot that uses large steel ball bearings. A near miss and the goose doesn't even startle, but a direct hit gets it moving. "So, then," I ask, "what happens when we break a goose's wing and it can't fly away?" "We get the .22." And then what? Do we eat the goose? Can we legally take a goose that way? None of us has ever dressed a game bird, but we're prepared to give it a go when the time comes. A range and weapons expert on one of Alan's work teams suggested a type of plastic pellet ballistically similar to the ball bearing but which will float and can be retrieved, and which won't break a goose's wing.
I was in the machine shed when a mouse appeared. I spoke to it and it approached and kind of hung out while I was preparing to use the tractor. "Have you met the friendly mouse in the machine shed?" I asked Alan. "Friendly mouse?" he replied. "Bunny frolics and now a friendly mouse – are we living in a frickin' Disney movie?"
Beatrix Potter's locution is rather interesting: Peter Rabbit's mother tells him his father had an accident in Mr. MacGregor's vegetable garden.
A weed is a plant out of place, and a varmint an animal out of place. Ok, so then what? I have no qualms about destroying every thistle I see, and even find myself thinking about where are the thistles I haven't found yet. There are no half-measures with thistles. But what about animals? The ones with faces?
At the time I began studying agricultural engineering, Iowa State's program required farm experience, so I spent the summer after high school working on the farm of family friends south of Ames. As I was learning the routine early on, one morning the farmer's son and I were slopping the hogs when a large rat scurried out from under the feeder. I was shocked at the sight, but my mentor didn't hesitate a moment before chasing down the thing and stomping it to death, further shocking me. There were no half-measures with rats on that farm.
Of course it's not just us. A great blue heron circled the pond this morning and prepared to land but was harassed by a pair of blue jays, and once they were satisfied a pair of red wing blackbirds took up the chase.
Ultimately it's a working out of biologist Lewis Thomas' dictum: life is a game of 'now I eat you'.