A path in the moonlight
The moon, tonight, is a finger clipping. A curved sliver of a thing in the twilight.
I walk home through the woods that connect the field I’ve been working in to my house. It’s late summer, but some of the bigger trees have already decided the season is changing and my track rustles with their discarded leaves. The rucksack on my bag holds the tools of my trade – the aluminium phosphate for the poisoning, the trowel for the loosening of earth and the digging I sometimes have to do, and the knives and twine for the stringing up and displaying.
I have done the job for years – the disposal of moles – but it’s only relatively recently I have felt so out of kilter with the rest of the world on the ethics of what I do. It’s seen as cruel and unnecessary in some quarters and yet the farmers still pay me for getting rid of what they see as pests. Besides, the poison I use and the phosphate gas it creates in the mole tunnels is nothing compared to the strychnine that was used in the past. Or the big knives, indiscriminately stabbing at any movement noticed just below the surface of a mole hill.
And who is anyone to judge what someone will do to keep food on their table and a roof over their head? I respect the moles I get rid of. Like me, they are natural isolates – solitary beings joining others only for quick, brutal matings in dark spaces underground. At least in this world, it’s just me and although I sometimes wonder whether this state is a point of sadness or regret, I am not sure it is.
These woods are the falling woods, unmanaged and wild. Paths appearing and disappearing depending on where the old trees with their shallowest of roots, finally crash to the ground. They are not the fallen woods, however. Within their usual stillness, there is always the potential, the capacity for the act of falling.
When I get to the edge of the woods, I see my garden and the bed of moon daisies with their wilting petals. The petals are spiraling, held on still by the skein of spiders’ webs, motored by a sudden breeze. I yawn and putting my hand to my face out of a pointless, ingrained politeness, I catch the deep, complex smell of earth that I can never manage to wash off my hands.
The moon, tonight, has something to hide. Perhaps a shameful secret, or a joke only it knows? Something certainly that causes it to present a silly smirk. And it is silly, appearing in the day – as it did earlier – a demented moon, out of its depth in the vivid blue, autumn sky.
When moles appear in the day, they can appear dazed and move unsteadily and erratically. I like to think they are dancing, gulping great gasps of daylight before going back underground. In older times, when moles were seen like this, people said they were moonstruck. Little bits of night in the day time, surprising the observer with their midnight fur.
An old word for a mole, still used in some parts of the country, was moldwarp and mole hills were wantitumps. Bizarre words even for the oddity of the creatures they describe; ancient words, Jabberwocky words. Their tunnels too are not really those – rather they are worm traps. Long, shallow snares for worms to drop into.
Country superstitions claimed swallowing the heart of a mole, fresh, almost beating still, would give the eater the power of divination. Or holding the severed hand (and it is a hand) of a mole would give you the power of healing. Tying the body of a mole round your neck until it rotted, would cure a cyst or tumour. Strange, if not mutually beneficial, beliefs.
Poison works to kill them, that I can guarantee. Old methods – holly leaves, moth balls and garlic do not.
There have been times I have held a mole while it is still alive, a tiny life, cupped in my hands. Its heart beating fast against its side - its heart where it should be and not in the gullet of some arriviste fortune teller. The softest of fur, with no, single direction to its nap; a quivering, warm snout.
At these times, the mole has no knowledge of me or my intent. No interest in me either. It only wants what all animals want – to be where it was with what it knows. I believe in no God, but to see this creature in your hands, to see it so entirely of itself, I don’t know, I don’t know. And this is what I kill.
The moon is far happier now it is back in its natural milieu of night and stars. The wispy clouds do nothing to hold the unseasonal heat at bay and the distant sound of running water makes me feel only sad.
The moon, tonight, hangs in the sky, as unapologetic and insolent as a teenage school boy.
In the winter season, the moon comes into its own and lights the farmer’s fields and my path home through the woods. I prefer to work in the daylight, but early evening works too. Winter days are short and you have to get the hours in when you can.
Besides, you can get used to the dark. Moles have adapted to the point where they hardly need their eyes. A small shift in movement or sound, the plop of worms dropping onto the floor of their traps, is sufficient for them.
I have finished tying the moles to the barbed wire fence at the edge of the field where I poisoned them. It’s the way it’s always been in my trade. Not to everyone’s taste, admittedly, but it shows the farmer how many moles I found in which location and it proves I have completed my job. I’m paid like mole-catchers always have been too – a price per mole disposed of.
The full moon shines on the row of dead moles. They are tied by their snouts, hands spread out, small feet dangling. The barbed wire hums in the night wind and the moles look like little rags of black fur in the moon’s harsh silver. A moonlight path, punctuated by gleams of darkness. Glitter and eclipse.
The moon, tonight, is partially eaten. The remains of a plain biscuit, taken out of courtesy and left on the plate. Or it is the skin of a punctured ball. However you see it, this moon is defeated, retreating back into the night.
I am on my path through the woods, returning to my house, although it’s the back garden I’m heading for in particular. My garden, front and back, is known and unknown. A Schrodinger’s cat of a garden. Full of spring flowers I know I planted, with none of them showing yet. Life both there and not there.
I have not eaten all day, but food will have to wait. Moles account for the leaner months by accessing their food stores - their larders - filled with zombie worms. Poisoned and preserved by the toxins in the mole’s saliva, yet living still.
Through the house and into the back garden via the kitchen door, I feel empathy with the moles and connection with the world. I open the hatch to the old coal chute, ready to climb into it. Before I do, I put on the black velvet jacket that used to be my father’s. The one I keep in the wooden store by the house. I also put on the blindfold I keep with it. What right do I have to eyes? Now, my sense of smell has intensified and I smell both my own sourness and the beautiful earth under my fingernails.
At one point, I had considered gloves - maybe moleskin, even chamois leather. Possibly even knife blades adapted and attached to them. But then, I had reconsidered. To connect, I need to feel. You see, we all have things to hide. And I am digging a tunnel, I am going underground. It’s only what I deserve.