Creatures had been eating the strawberries. Not only nibbling the bright red juicy fruit but also chewing at the roots, causing stress to the plant, killing several of them. Root-chewed plants were scattered through the bed.
I suspected voles since, when I lifted the straw mulch around the bed, I saw telltale holes dug into the soft black earth. Chipmunks were the next suspects, with several regularly bounding between the beds as they nibbled beans, raspberries and young cauliflower. They get away with a lot by being so cute; cuteness might be an evolutionary advantage.
Something had disrupted the balance and my hunch was that the garden snakes had been disturbed. I cringed with the realization that the something might be me.
The snakes have maintained themselves in a steady population in the garden for decades. They dwell mainly along the stone wall where the herbs grow. They eat slugs, voles, mice and probably those adorable chipmunks. But in doing so, they keep the numbers of these garden creatures at a reasonable level. Since the snake population doesn’t change much over the years, something is also keeping them in balance.
A couple of years ago, in an effort to contain herb growth, and even more so, the weed growth among the herbs, I moved the plants into large pots. I then took away the top layer of soil and surrounded the pots with sawdust. But in so doing, I unwittingly disturbed the homes and pathways of the snakes. Without the snakes, there are more of those creatures that eat strawberries and destroy the entire plant.
I don’t know where the snakes have gone and I miss them. Even though, no matter how prepared I was to meet one of them lying on the warm stone at the day’s end, when the air was getting cool, I invariably started in surprise when I encountered one. A quick recovery followed and delight in seeing them. Knowing that snakes are sensitive to vibration, I regularly talked to them aloud and began to sing to them. Where they had once quickly slithered out of sight, into the foliage of the Echinacea or the sage, they began to move away more slowly, then to stop when I hummed or sang.