Shaun stares at me.
I asked, as innocently as possible, “Have you ever ticked off a gopher?”
It’s 6:30 am, we’re both wearing 6 layers of clothing, and holding speckled tin cups of coffee, gazing out over the deserted campground.
She’s a city girl. “Ticked off” goes with “frisk for firearms” not gopher.
She squints. There’s a busy person in her brain trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
“How do you tick off a gopher?”, she asks, looking blankly at the picnic table.
I blow steam off my coffee cup. If I answer literally, she won’t understand what I’m suggesting.
“Skunk karma?”, I say.
Shaun has experienced living with someone who has skunk karma. Her reaction is instant. I watch all the pieces fly together in her brain, get shuffled into place. She sits up. Sets down her coffee cup. Turns to face me.
“Please tell me you did not upset a gopher”, she says, scanning my face.
“Not that I know of”, I say. “But…”
I wave helplessly at the daisy covered roof of The Gopher Empire.
“What happened?”, she demands. She is positive something happened.
I relay my encounter with the cute, smart, gopher who kicked dirt into the dog’s mouth.
“That gopher seemed fine with me”, I say.
“What about the dog?”, she says, “Was it mad at the dog?”
(Skunk Karma is serious stuff. Who knows how gopher karma could turn out.)
“Noo..”, I say, “It was more…amused.”
We contemplate this. I see a flicker of shadow near the ground. Shaun slowly lifts her finger and points, quiet.
A gopher sticks its head out of a hole near the front of the site, about 4 feet from us. It doesn’t even bother to look in our direction. There’s a scuffle of dirt, and it dives back down, kicking up sprays of granulated dirt. Dirt geyser.
Our personal gopher pops up about a foot away from the original hole, looks down at the ground, cocks his head, heaves a sigh, and dives back down underground.
Shaun and I look at each other. We got the engineer gopher? I picture it unrolling blueprints and checking strata, searching for the mistake in its calculations.
He seems slightly smaller than the gopher I saw. Seconds later, his head is above the original hole, and he’s using a forearm like a child: leveling a swath of flat space in sand. This seems to please him. He scans a 360 of everything around him, pausing when his eyes rest on us.
Is that…a scowl…? His eyes crinkle and his mouth turns down. He does not look happy. The dog stands up and points: small game, two o’clock. Kill, please.
Engineer gopher looks disdainfully at the pointing paw, rolls his eyes, and disappears underground, not even trying to kick up any dirt.
I don’t know whether to be happy our campsite came with a grumpy gopher, or sad, because a gopher with a sense of humor might have been fun. I don’t know which one has more chance of creating gopher karma.
My stomach sinks. The grumpy, geezer gopher is more likely to get ticked.
I wonder how a conversation would go at the registration booth. We’re in site T-9? And it’s fine? But our gopher is pretty cranky, and we’d like to switch to a campsite with a happy gopher, if possible. I think T-11’s gopher has a better sense of humor…
I’m pretty sure our campsite would be instantly combed for liquor. We’re stuck with grumpy. Well. He didn’t look too interested in us. Maybe we can just stay out of each other’s way for 5 days? We pack up and head off to the beach.
Two things are different, when we return.
- The deserted campground is full of cars and trucks backing into spaces, tents billowing, barbeques being off-loaded, the dental-drill whine of pumps filling rafts and mattresses with air. Car radios are being tuned to stations. People are singing, calling out to each other, banging on stakes, and attempting to have some patience with “We’re finally HERE” kids, who are whizzing around on foot, bicycle, skateboard, and each other’s backs. A city is being built. Above ground. How is grouchy gopher going to deal with THIS? He’s got to be used to it, right?
- I step into the tent and think: “Gee. I don’t remember the ground being so soft in that spot.”
The next morning, Shaun wakes up first (I rolled over, she rocketed to the floor), tried to tiptoe while ducking the tent and kind of leaping over the air mattress. She yelps. My eyes fly open.
Shaun is holding her shoes, standing on one foot, the other one lifted high in the air, and staring at the tent floor. She sees me looking at her.
“I felt something”, she says, “…pushing up on my foot.”
The tent floor bobbles. An unmistakable outline of a golf-ball-sized head pushes up against the fabric, shifting as the head swivels, surveying the extent of the problem. The floor flattens. I open my mouth to say something. Shaun is still standing on one foot, looking like The Karate Kid in the Crane fighting position.
Except she’s wearing glasses, and hefting athletic shoes. Oh. And there’s no gopher in Karate Kid.
Suddenly, the tent floor pyramids up violently, knocking Shaun off her foot and onto the air mattress. Grouchy gopher must have gone deep below, built up some speed, and tried to burst through the fabric.
He’s going to have one whopper of a headache.
The floor is no longer flat, there’s a hump where the gopher tried for a rocket launch. Out of the hump, we see his head protrude against the fabric, and then two little lumps on either side of the head push UP.
Angry little gopher hands push on the ceiling. His fury is palpable. Scritch scritch swath: his fur rubs on the underside of our tent, as he tries to figure out what went wrong. His remodeling blueprint says this is free space.
A hump rises, and snakes it’s way from the mound to the end of the floor fabric, and disappears, leaving a raised tube of dirt beneath the tent.
(All this time. Who knew Bugs Bunny’s method of travel was TRUE?)
“You first”, Shaun says, motioning to the door with determination, “I am not getting involved in this.”
I whine in my head.
Why do I always have to deal with angry rodents?
Oh, he’s waiting. He stares at me, fuming, black eyes smoldering with resentment. He is the gopher equivalent of the-old-geezer-on-the-porch. The old man who yells at kids on the sidewalk to stay off his lawn, one hand closed around a walnut from the tub at his feet, ready to lob.
We spent the next four days trying to figure out the location of the sidewalk. We gave up, and used it as an excuse to spend all day at the beach. We’d forget about him.
Trooping back, our arms laden with beach gear, we’d suddenly stop and glance at each other.
Our gopher was always propped up on the edge of a hole, glaring at us malevolently. I am certain he had many drafts of eviction notices written, in gopher, in his study.
“This better not turn out to be Gopher Karma”, Shaun says.
“If it is, it’s got to be better than Skunk Karma”, I say.
She stares at me. “The question is, can you have both at the same time?”