Sing goddess, sing the raging madness of Achilles
Rage that sent many a fighter soul to Hades
And made them carrion flesh for dogs and all the birds . . .
I never thought it boded well for humanity that the first word in western literature was menis, the Greek word for raging madness, and that it portended even worse that it is embedded in a military context. Hesiod, Homer’s rough contemporary, augurs no better when he tells us in the Theogony that in the beginning there was Eris, Strife. Strife and rage – and it only went down hill from there after the 8th century BC. I bring this up because today finds me in the midst of a fierce conflict against the nation of voles. No, they did not kidnap my wife as Paris did Helen, bride of Menelaus, King of Sparta (the event that precipitated the Trojan War). Worse. They ate my potatoes, the tuber that launched a thousand ships.
So we were forced to bring in our potatoes about three weeks earlier than we wanted, because a survey showed about a 15% loss rate and we figured to stem the loss it was better to bring in the potatoes now while young rather than wait. It turned out to be a good call because we had a great mix of new potatoes whose virtue is their creaminess, with some larger tubers, and harvested somewhere between 75-90lbs of tubers off of about 150 square feet of row.
It put me in such a tizzy that all I could think about was genocide against the voles. I would need to do to them what Caesar had done to the Tencteri and Usipetes, or at the very least, repeat Trajan’s ethnic cleansing of Dacia a la AD 106. Mures delendi aunt! (“The mice must be destroyed!” [sorry Cato!]). So, without further ado, I give you the vole wars of AD 2012 . . .
Commentarii Stefani De Bello Murium in Campo (Steve’s Field Mouse War Commentaries).
All my farm is divided into three parts, vegetation we want, animals we want, and pests. Of these the burrowing mammals are by far the most pernicious and themselves are divided into several tribes – voles (various types of field mice), ground squirrels, rabbits, moles, and gophers. Now the kingdom of voles had long since encroached on the imperium of the garden, and Steve! in his clemency, had long tolerated their presence. He had, for a long space, tolerated their raids on his lettuce. Their incursions against his spinach had grieved him and his forbearance was much tested. But their latest knavery had proved too much and Steve! decided that their misdeeds must be punished.
The first action taken was to get as many of his potatoes within the city walls as possible. To that end, Steve and Lori evacuated the first row to safety, with losses of approximately 15%. In the end we managed to get approximately 100lbs to safety, and the injured were also evacuated, many willingly sacrificing themselves as fodder for our chickens and dog.
The wounded and dead await evacuation from the field of battle. Please use discretion with children in showing these horrifying images.
The next action was to muster our forces for counter-attack. “Sing to me now oh you Muses who dwell in Olympus’ halls, for you are everywhere and know all things . . .” There was MoleGo of the Great Castor Oil Stench, stalwart, of brazen heart and odor foul; Puck, Chewer of Voles, deep digger, dog stout of heart and stupid of head, stood ready to go paw to talon with the foe; Propane Dragon Burner, burner of holes, dealer of flame and death stood ready for the fray; Lori, Wrangler of Birds, goddess of taters, stood in full panoply, her eyes burning fire and rage at the desecration of her starchy shrine; Darius and Xerxes, brave felines with screech mighty and claws which sat in array like a serried row of hoplites in gleaming armor stood at the ready, two cats that had sent many a vole soul to underworld gloom and the shades below.
Lori wages war on the field of battle, while in the front safely evacuated refugee potatoes await transfer to a relocation center.
Before heading into battle, Steve! addressed the army in the following terms (with apologies to Thucydides and Tacitus):
“I shall begin with our potatoes, for it is both just and proper that they should have the honor of first mention on such an occasion. They grew in a soil that was amended from heavy clay to loam, growing from small tubers to big. But what was the process by which they went from small seed tubers, to multiple roots ranging from small to big? I begin my panegyric with taters, for I think it a subject upon which on the present occasions a speaker might properly dwell.
“Our garden does not copy the constitution of other neighboring farms; we are a pattern to others rather than imitators ourselves. Its administration favors many crops rather than a few; this is what is called diversity. If we look to our cultivation, it affords equal growth to all crops maintaining their private differences. If a plant is able to grow, it is not hindered by the obscuring of its leaves. The freedom our plants enjoy in growth extends to the delight it gives in its eating. Far from exercising jealous competition with each other, we do not feel called upon to favor one vegetable over another for growing as it likes, each in its own way.
“Further, we provide plenty of refreshment for our crops. We give organic fertilizer and diligently water the season round, while the magnitude of our garden draws pollinators from all the fields around, so that this garden is as familiar with the bees and humming birds of other farms as with those if its own.
“Nor are these the only points in which our garden is worthy of admiration. We cultivate vegetables without extravagance and flowers without effeminacy; fruit we grow more for use than for show, and place the real disgrace of failed crop not in owning to the fact but in failing to struggle against it. The enemy appreciates none of this: to chew, to nibble, to gnaw, they call by the false name livelihood, and where we make a garden they eat our peas.
Perhaps the most iconic image from the war; Lori conducts mopping up operations on the desolate battlefield at war’s end.
“In short, I say that we are the school of organic gardening, and I doubt if the world can produce a garden graced by so happy a versatility as our own. And this is no mere boast thrown out for the occasion, but a simple matter of fact. Where the rewards for amending and watering regularly are greatest, there is found the best produce.
These words having been spoken, the siege engines were brought up, and the voles were given a chance to surrender “before the ram touched the wall”. When no parley was proffered, Steve! ordered his troops to mount the engines and deployed the left wing of his cavalry, scattering MoleGo on the right wing of the enemy flank near where the enemy had mined against his row. He then outflanked the enemy by deploying his MoleGo cavalry in reserve on his right with a full frontal assault.
The war’s hidden wounds: Puck will likely need years of therapy for the PTSD suffered from severe indigestion after devouring a live mouse.
Next, fire was brought in to destroy the enemy villages and dwellings scattered throughout the land, with Propane, burner of holes, deployed broadly. Lori, Wrangler of Birds, saw to the safety of the remaining potatoes, while Puck, Chewer of Voles, happily approached his commander with a mouse tale hanging out of his mouth, tail wagging. For his act of valor Steve bestowed upon Puck the corona muris servandis pomis terrae (the crown of the mouse for saving his potatoes).
The province was, for the moment secured . . .