Capistrano has its swallows. Pier 39 has its sea lions. And Manteca has its gophers.
The approach of warmer weather brings with it the increase in mounds of dirt popping up in lawns and gardens in Manteca much like oil gushers in Texas.
The gophers are back to munch their way through Manteca.
My first encounter with a gopher happened 21 years ago. I had just pulled out of the driveway dressed to referee a Manteca Recreation adult basketball game complete with black slacks, stripped shirt and a whistle around my neck when I noticed a mound of dirt below one of the Modesto Ash trees. I did a double take when I saw a furry head pop up.
So I did what any red-blooded Mantecan would do who has invested time and money in his yard, I stopped the car, grabbed a hose, turned the water on and stuck it in the hole. Within seconds the gopher popped up in another location. I moved the hose to that hole. He then popped up in a third hole.
Obviously it was time to play whack a gopher. So I went into the shed and grabbed the first thing I could find — an ax.
I stood over the holes with my back to the street corner. The second the gopher popped his head up I started swinging. This went on for about a minute or so until I sensed someone watching me. I lowered the ax and turned around. There — in a late model BMW — was a gentleman who I would later find out was the pastor of the church that was having its first service in the old Mormon meeting house that day. He was staring at me mouth open along with the rest of his family. Because shrubs blocked part of their view what they saw was a madman dressed as a basketball referee doing his best imitation of Lizzie Borden swinging away at the ground with an ax. That was the first of many skirmishes I had with gophers.
The low point in my 21-year war with gophers came when I had ripped out the lawn three feet back from the sidewalk in the front and side yards and planted gazinas. I had no idea that gazinas ranked as one of the top three favorite food delicacies for gophers to vacuum up. Over the course of three months the gophers devoured five of the 16 flats of gazinas I planted.
I went nuts trying to kill gophers. I did everything from smoke bombs to traps to broken glass to Juicy Fruit gum.
It was a losing battle. Between 160 rose bushes, two dozen trees, and a hundred or so other shrubs not to mention plants and vegetables I had created the gopher equivalent of Family Buffet and a Five Star restaurant in one location complete with dozens of long-established gopher runs from the days when the land the home was built on was part of an almond orchard.
My battles with gophers were epic. I resorted to digging up every rose bush and shrub that I could and replanting them with chicken wire beneath them to frustrate gophers that could give locust a run for their money.
One morning as I returned from the gym, an elderly man shuffled toward me in front of our home and uttered two words, “dog sh--.”
It stopped me in my tracks. I sized him up trying to figure if this frail elderly gentleman who looked like he was pushing 80 had a weapon on him or was simply crazy.
Then he said it again, “dog sh--.”
I just stood there, stunned.
He spoke again
“Dog sh--. Aren’t you Dennis Wyatt from the Manteca Bulletin?”
Now I was really concerned.
“It works,” he continued. “I’ve been reading about your gopher problems in the Bulletin. I put dog sh-- down gopher holes and it keeps them away.”
I told him I’d keep that in mind and thanked him for the advice. And no, I didn’t put dog droppings in gopher holes although I could see how that might work.
Readers who have had gopher encounters tend to share their stories.
One involved a gentleman with the first name of Jack who had come home from working on trucks at Perry & Sons, noticed a gopher mound in the backyard, put a hose in the hole, turned on the water and went inside to have dinner. He forgot about the hose in the backyard. The next day when he got home from work, he stepped off his concrete patio and proceeded to sink a good 9 inches into the lawn
Then there was Antone Raymus
I wrote about how I got a hose stuck in a hole while I was trying to drown a gopher. When I spent about 15 minutes trying to dig it out I got a knife and was getting ready to cut the hose when Cynthia appeared and wanted to know why I was going to ruin a $30 hose. Frustrated, I continued digging. Thirty minutes later the hole was about six feet wide and she was telling me I was nuts and told me to cut the hose.
Antone laughed when he read that.
He told me the same thing transpired between him and his wife Marie while he was trying to kill a gopher.
Say what you want about gophers, but if Manteca ever adopted an official city rodent it would be my top choice although roof rats would come in a close second.