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Moats: Part of Nature

08/04/10 5:55PM By David Moats
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(HOST) Gardening reminds commentator David Moats that he too, is part of nature, in more ways than one.

(MOATS) Humans are part of nature; in Vermont we know this because nature is never far away.  The interdependence - and the competition - between humans and the rest of nature are being played out in and around my garden.

For the last few years, I have been doing battle with woodchucks who have feasted on cabbage, broccoli and other crops - especially beans.  When I put up fence, they burrowed under.  I startled a woodchuck in the garden one morning and watched as it climbed over the fence.  Though the experts discourage it, I even caught a few and transported them to an undisclosed location.

The main effect of their presence was the suppression of my bean crop.  But this year - and I hope I don't jinx it by saying it - the woodchucks are gone.

I saw one, looking exposed and forlorn, out in a meadow about a quarter-mile away.  But my neighbors, too, report that their gardens have been unmolested.

What we have are foxes.  We see them from time to time, and in the eveings we hear them yap.  A neighbor has reported a young fox family gamboling near a building where the woodchucks used to have a den.  Have the foxes driven out the woodchucks?

It seems possible to me.  Foxes are predators, and woodchucks are fat and, possibly, edible.  But why all the foxes?

I asked a well-known outdoor writer, and he theorized that the increased presence of coyotes might be driving foxes closer to human habitations.  Then a scientist told me there have been studies showing that tolerance of humans is a genetic trait carried by some foxes.

This web of cause and effect is far-reaching: the expanding range of coyotes pushing foxes toward our village, causing woodchucks to flee, and leaving me with a plentiful harvest of beans.  Thank you, coyotes.

Oh, there was the problem of my neighbor's goose, killed last year by a fox. As the fox might say, thank you, humans, for bringing me such a delicacy.

So we are part of nature, for good and ill.

Where I live, mosquitoes are generally a plague in the summer, but - and I hope I don't jinx it - this year they are virtually absent.  I had worried that the demise of the bats would cause the mosquitoes to flourish, but it seems dry weather in May and the well-timed application of larvicide have given us a pleasantly bug-free summer.

All of this give and take occurring around the gardens of Vermont is rather benign compared to other ways that humans are interacting with nature - as in the Gulf of Mexico - as in the changes brought about by climate change.

But there's no escaping it - from the bacteria that inhabit our bodies to the mammals who patrol our woods and fields, raiding our gardens and poultry, it's an ever-shifting balance - with, for now, a bumper corp of beans.
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