Valley Grove Tapestries: Pocket Gopher

Hello, pocket gopher.

On my first visit to the churches, I spotted some darling small striped gophers (actually 13-lined ground squirrels) next to the stone church. Those might be fun to add to a tapestry, I thought, and even made a quick sample of a woven one.

A bearded founding pastor is depicted too.

Valley Grove preservation Society member Marlene Halvorsen wrote that it might be better to depict a pocket gopher, as they are important prairie animals.

Pocket gophers digging their tunnel homes bring up granulated, weed-seed free dirt full of nutrients including minerals (we use it in our garden) and since prairie plant seeds need to touch the soil to germinate, gopher mounds provided a receptive surface for perpetuating the prairies. So, if we are considering a gopher for the tapestry, for example, I think a pocket gopher would be more appropriate than the striped gopher for this reason.

The first time I visited the church and walked through the prairie beyond, a friendly fellow hiker said, “The trails are great, but watch out for those gopher holes–you might turn your ankle!”

Trail through the prairie, November 2021

Gophers may be great for prairie flowers, but early Valley Grove Scandinavian settlers did not appreciate their activities. Getting rid of gophers was a goal, as this excerpt from A History of Rice County (Rev. Edward D. Neill, Minneapolis, MN : Minnesota Historical Society, 1882, p. 316) illustrates.

Minnesota counties have paid bounties for pocket gophers since 1904.

From Minnesota Revised Laws of 1905. Also noted in that section: Wolves brought a bounty of $7.50, and “A reward of two hundred dollars shall be paid for procuring the arrest and conviction of any person charged with horse stealing.”

Bounties for gophers are still paid by counties and townships. (Read Tim Krohn’s interesting article in the Mankato Free Press, “Gophers have moved up on most wanted list.”) While they have been pests for farmers and in home landscapes for generations, gophers have a new, problematic, target to gnaw–buried fiber optic cables!

Plains pocket gophers move tons of soil each year as they tunnel through the prairies. They are well-suited to their homes in burrows, with sharp claws to dig and long incisors to loosen the dirt. Sensitive whiskers help gophers maneuver in dark tunnels. Their ears and eyes are tiny, not so necessary to their underground lives. So here’s my attempt at a long-toothed, tiny-eyed, non-striped pocket gopher, who sits atop the deer in the upper right border corner. I think my rendition may have ended up a bit cuter than the real-life animals. I wanted to make the cheek pocket and the long teeth visible.

The remaining three animals in the top border are ALMOST DONE. I am writing this post mainly to avoid the most difficult bit, the coyote head…

3 comments

  1. Thanks, Robbie, for an alternate view of the pocket gopher. As is common, I have thought of a natural critter with the view that there can’t possibly be a reason for their existence! Thanks! I love to read about your creative process.

    Peg Hansen

  2. Thanks, Peg. I feel like I learned about gophers too, and I am still a bit freaked out about the image of the gopher pie…

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