The Iceplant and the Gopher


   On the black earth on which the ice-plants bloomed, hundreds of black stink bugs crawled. And many of them stuck their tails up in the air. "Look at all them stink bugs," Hazel remarked, grateful to the bugs for being there.
   "They're interesting," said Doc.
   "Well, what they got their asses up in the air for?"
   Doc rolled up his wool socks and put them in the rubber-boots and from his pocket he brought out dry socks and a pair of thin moccasins. "I don't know why," he said. "I looked them up recently - they're very common animals and one of the commonest things they do is put their tails up in the air. And in all the books there isn't one mention of the fact that they put their tails up in the air or why."
   Hazel turned one of the stink bugs over with the toe of his wet tennis-shoe and the shining black beetle strove madly with floundering legs to get upright again. "Well, why do you think they do it?"
   "I think they're praying," said Doc.
   "What!" Hazel was shocked.
   "The remarkable thing," said Doc, "isn't that they put their tails up in the air - the really incredible remarkable thing is that we find it remarkable. We can only use ourselves as yardsticks. If we did something as inexplicable and strange we'd probably be praying - so maybe they're praying."
   "Let's get the hell out of here," said Hazel.

Chapter VI of "Cannery Row"

Ice-plant. This succulent grows very well in the sandy conditions between the solid ground and the beach.

   A well-grown gopher took up residence in a thicket of mallow weeds in the vacant lot on Cannery Row. It was a perfect place. The deep green luscious mallows towered up crisp and rich, and as they matured their little cheeses hung down provocatively. The earth was perfect for a gopher-hole too, black and soft and yet with a little clay in it so that it didn't crumble and the tunnels didn't cave in. The gopher was fat and sleek and he had always plenty of food in his cheek pouches. His little ears were clean and well set and his eyes were as black as old-fashioned pin-heads and just about the same size. His digging hands were strong and the fur on his back was glossy brown and the fawn-coloured fur on his chest was incredibly soft and rich. He had long curving yellow teeth and a little short tail. Altogether he was a beautiful gopher and in the prime of his life.
   He came to the place over-land and found it good and he began his burrow on a little eminence where he could look out among the mallow weeds and see the trucks go by on Cannery Row. He could watch the feet of Mack and the boys as they crossed the lot to the Palace Flophouse. As he dug down into the coal-black earth he found it even more perfect, for there were great rocks under the soil. When he made his great chamber for the storing of food it was under a rock so that it could never cave in, no matter how hard it rained. It was a place where he could settle down and raise any number of families and the burrow could increase in all directions.
   It was beautiful in the early morning when he first poked his head out of the burrow. The mallows filtered green light down on him and the first rays of the rising sun shone into his hole and warmed it so that he lay there content and very comfortable.
   When he had dug his great chamber and his four emergency exits and his waterproof deluge room, the gopher began to store food. He cut down only the perfect mallow stems and trimmed them to the exact length he needed and he took them down the hole and stacked them neatly in his great chamber, and arranged them so they wouldn't ferment or get sour. He had found the perfect place to live. There were no gardens about, so no one would think of setting a trap for him. Cats there were, many of them, but they were so bloated with fishheads and guts from the canneries that they had long ago given up hunting. The soil was sandy enough, so that water never stood about or filled a hole for long. The gopher worked and worked until he had his great chamber crammed with food. Then he made little side chambers for the babies who would inhabit them. In a few years there might be thousands of his progeny spreading out from this original hearthstone.
   But as time went on the gopher began to be a little impatient, for no female appeared. He sat in the entrance of his hole in the morning and made penetrating squeaks that are inaudible to the human ear but can be heard deep in the earth by other gophers. And still no female appeared. Finally in a sweat of impatience he went up across the track until he found another gopher-hole. He squeaked provocatively in the entrance. lie heard a rustling and smelled female, and then out of the hole came an old battle-torn bull gopher who mauled and bit him so badly that he crept home and lay in his great chamber for three days recovering and he lost two toes from one front paw from that fight.
   Again he waited and squeaked beside his beautiful burrow in the beautiful place, but no female ever came, and after a while he had to move away. He had to move two blocks up the hill to a dahlia garden where they put out traps every night.

Chapter XXXI of "Cannery Row"

 

 

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